Dr. Kenneth J. Ryan (1926-2002)

Dr. RYAN WAS AN OUTSTANDING SCIENTIST who first discovered the production of estrogens in the ovary through the aromatization of androgens to estrogens. He was also an academic leader and a persistent and courageous advocate for legal abortion.

For twenty years, until 1993, Dr. Ryan was Professor and Chairman of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In 1973, just a few weeks after Dr. Ryan became the chair at Harvard, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in all states. In response, Dr. Ryan established the first outpatient abortion service within a teaching hospital in the United States and began a routine resident rotation for first- and second-trimester abortion training. Many of the current academic leaders in reproductive health have been trained in this program.

Dr. Ryan went to Harvard Medical School at a time when it was still illegal in Massachusetts for physicians to fit a diaphragm or educate their patients (married or not) about contraception. He was trained when septic abortion was the major cause of maternal mortality in the United States. As a resident, he witnessed the death of a young woman from an illegal abortion. He saw the change in public debate following the Sherri Finkbine thalidomide debacle and the rubella epidemic causing fetal abnormalities.

Toward the end of his career, Dr. Ryan’s work focused on issues of ethics in medicine. He chaired and served on numerous governmental and professional committees addressing ethical aspects of science and medicine.