Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
Last week the New York Times reported the death of Dr. Jean Pakter at age 101, director of New York City’s Bureau of Maternity and Child Services from 1960-1982. As her obituary noted, Dr. Pakter was not an ordinary functionary, but a pioneering researcher and clinician “who made New York City a national model for providing safe, legal abortions and led an innovative effort to educate women about the benefits of birth control, prenatal nutrition and breast-feeding.”
Dr. Pakter was also one of the first researchers to note the rise of unwed mothers and her article “Out of Wedlock Births in New York City, 1961”was cited by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his controversial and influential report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” She also published some of the initial research on abortion in articles such as “Two Years Experience in New York City With the Liberalized Abortion Law-Progress and Problems” in the American Journal of Public Health, June 1973.
She came to prominence in Mayor Robert F. Wagner’s Department of Health compiling reports about the commerce in abortion when it was illegal, including statistics on the number of women injured or killed by illegal practitioners. After New York State made abortion legal in 1970, Dr. Pakter, who had advocated for the law, set up the guidelines for clinics performing abortions and mandated that all abortions performed after 12 weeks be done in hospitals, which became national models. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun cited her research in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
To learn more about Dr. Jean Pakter or public health in New York City please feel free to contact to contact the Archives or go to our Health in America website and “You and Your Health: Public Health in New York City” curriculum.