NEW YORK — Dr. Jean Pakter — a former health official 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 — died Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 101. Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Dr. Ellen B. Mendelson.
Dr. Pakter, who headed the bureau of maternity services and family planning in the city’s health department from 1960 to 1982, was also recognized for landmark research in the 1960s on women’s reproductive health that influenced several defining political events of her time, including the war on poverty in the 1960s and the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
Abortion was illegal during Dr. Pakter’s early years in public health, and she had the task of compiling reports about the commerce in abortion. These reports provided some of the few reliable estimates about the number of women injured or killed by illegal practitioners. She worked actively to support a state law, passed in 1970, that gave women in New York the right to abortion, three years before it was legalized nationally.
Dr. Pakter, who saw her job in essence as being New York’s chief pediatrician and family doctor, was instrumental in establishing rules for abortion clinics, including guidelines for what equipment had to be in doctors’ offices and a requirement that abortions after 12 weeks be done in hospitals. These rules were later adopted in many states.
The law also provided data for a series of annual reports showing that large numbers of abortions — 163,000 in New York City the first year — could be performed safely if monitored by local authorities.
One of Dr. Pakter’s earliest studies, ‘‘Out of Wedlock Births in the City of New York, 1961,’’ became the data lodestar for several national initiatives on poverty and children in the early 1960s.
Her bureau’s work in compiling childbirth statistics in the city also led Dr. Pakter to start an innovative protocol for the treatment of premature babies, which quickly became the norm nationwide.
The relationships that Dr. Pakter established with the city’s obstetricians in that effort also helped her promote her ideas about doctoring.She urged physicians to be more assertive in educating pregnant women about the benefits of good nutrition and in explaining why breast-feeding was better than formula-feeding for both mother and child.
Jean Pakter was born in Manhattan. She was one of only four women accepted to the class of 1934 at the University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. She entered private practice as a pediatrician and began working for the city’s Maternity Services Bureau in the 1950s.