SARASOTA, Fla., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- The Massachusetts doctor whose performance of a legal abortion in 1973 started a national debate over rights of the unborn has died in Florida at age 74.
Dr. Robert Edelin was convicted of causing the death of a fetus resulting from the abortion, but the legal battle that ensued set the parameters for future abortion doctors, the New York Times reported Monday.
During his trial, prosecutors did not contest the legality of the abortion, which was performed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most anti-abortion laws in Roe vs. Wade. Instead, prosecutors argued Edelin had deprived a "baby boy" of oxygen after the abortion while it was still in the womb "being born."
After his conviction, Edelin was given a year's probation and allowed to keep his medical license, the Times said.
On appeal, Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court unanimously overturned the verdict and acquitted Edelin.
In their ruling, the justices clarified the definition of "life," defining it as having heartbeats and respiration. They also protected physicians from being charged with a crime for failing to take "heroic" measures to save a fetus once it is outside the mother's body.
Edelin went on to have a successful medical and teaching career. He was chairman of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1989 to 1992.
He stopped practicing medicine some years ago. He was living in Sarasota, Fla., at the time of his death from cancer.