Harvey Karman

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Harvey Karman (April 26, 1924 - May 6, 2008) was the inventor of the Karman cannula, a flexible suction cannula used for early abortion.[1] Karman trained members of the Jane Collective in Chicago in the use of the Karman cannula.[2]


Karman presented himself as "Dr. Harvey Karman," though he was not a physician, and his PhD was in psychology.[3]

Fatal abortion

In 1955, Karman performed a fatal abortion on a woman in a California motel room.[4] He served a prison sentence, before being pardoned by then governor Jerry Brown.[3]

"Super coils"

Karman also developed the "super coil" abortion technique, which he believed would enable lay practitioners to perform second-trimester abortions with little training or equipment. The coils were inserted into the uterus, where they caused irritation leading to the expulsion of the fetus. However, both of Karman's documented trials with super coils were failures.

The first trial took place in Bangladesh. Karman had been invited there by the government of Bangladesh and by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, to perform abortions on women who had been raped by soldiers. Karman augmented his super coils with pieces of balsa wood. The women suffered a high rate of complications, leading health officials to investigate.[5]

The second trial took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 8, 1972. The Jane Collective in Chicago had been raided, and the members who performed abortions jailed. The remaining members arranged to take a bus load of women to Philadelphia, for abortions to be performed by Karman and an assistant. The abortions were performed at an abortion clinic that was openly operating, in violation of Pennsylvania law. A local woman's group, outraged that the women were being subjected to an untested and possibly unsafe abortion method, protested outside the clinic, letting the air out of the bus tires. A public television crew from a station in New York filmed the procedures at Karman's invitation.

Keeping inadequate records, working well into the night, the abortion team managed to pack the 15 patients selected for "super coil" abortions by the early morning hours. One woman ended up hospitalized in Pennsylvania due to lacerations. This prompted local health officials to contact the Centers for Disease Control, which investigated and found that two of the patients had been lost to follow-up, one required a hysterectomy, one was hospitalized for twenty days with infection, and one continued to bleed until she became anemic. In total, nine of the 13 patients who could be tracked down had suffered complications. The CDC suggested that,

"Until the super-coil abortion technique is demonstrated to be safe in the hands of competent medical personnel and in a controlled research setting, the CDC findings suggest that it is not appropriate for use by paramedical personnel."[6]


  1. Potts M, Diggory P, Peel J. Abortion. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University. 1977
  2. Laura Kaplan, The Story of Jane, University of Chicago Press, 1997
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bernard N. Nathanson, Aborting America, Life Cycle Books, 1979
  4. District Court of Appeal, Second District Division 3, California. The People of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent,v. Harvey Leroy Karman, Defendant and Appellant.Cr. 5583. November 13, 1956
  5. Judith P. Bourne, R.M., et al., "Medical Complications from Induced Abortion by the Super Coil Method," Health Services Report v. 89, n. 1, January–February 1974
  6. Centers for Disease Control Abortion Surveillance 1972

See also