Harvey Karman

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Harvey Karman

Harvey Leroy Karman[1] (April 26, 1924 – May 6, 2008) was an American psychologist and the inventor of the Karman cannula, a flexible suction cannula used for early abortion.[2]

Karman was born Harvey Walters in Clatskanie, Oregon. He took his stepfather's surname.[3]


In 1955, Karman, who at the time was working towards his doctorate in psychology and who was not licensed to practice medicine, used a speculum and a nutcracker to perform an abortion on a woman in a California motel room, who subsequently died. He was convicted of providing abortion, which was illegal in California at the time.[4] He served two-and-a-half years in state prison.[5]

"Super coils"[edit]

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. The first trial of the super coil method was on Bangladeshi rape victims under the sponsorship of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. These generally resulted in high rates of injury to the patient.[6]

One trial of the super coil method took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 13 and 14, 1972. Fifteen women in their second trimester traveled from Chicago to Philadelphia, where Kermit Gosnell performed the abortions using Karman's method. A public television crew from a station in New York City filmed the procedures at Karman's invitation. Nine of the 15 had complications, three of those with major complications.[7][8]

Flexible cannula[edit]

Karman invented a soft, flexible cannula for abortions. At the time of his death in 2008, it was still in wide use around the world.[9]

Karman was the father of Janice Karman, a singer-songwriter better known as Theodore Seville of Alvin and the Chipmunks.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "People v. Karman". Justia Law.
  2. ^ Potts, Malcolms; Diggory, Peter; Peel, John (1977). Abortion. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University. ISBN 978-0-521-29150-7.[page needed]
  3. ^ Woo, Elaine (May 19, 2008). "Inventor, activist Harvey Karman, 84". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ District Court of Appeal, Second District Division 3, California. People v. Karman. Cr. 5583. November 13, 1956
  5. ^ Woo, Elaine (May 18, 2008). "Creator of device for safer abortions". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ James Taranto, "Back-Alley Abortion Never Ended", The Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2013
  7. ^ McCullough, Marie (February 25, 2010). "Doctor had role in 1972 fiasco: Kermit B. Gosnell figured in a test of an abortion device that harmed 9 of 15 women". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  8. ^ Bourne, Judith P.; Berger, Gary S.; Haber, Richard J.; Tyler, Carl W.; Keith, Louis; Knisely, Kristine; Zackler, Jack (1974). "Medical Complications from Induced Abortion by the Super Coil Method". Health Services Reports. 89 (1): 40–2. doi:10.2307/4594975. JSTOR 4594975. PMC 1616242. PMID 4815040.
  9. ^ "Creator of device for safer abortions". 18 May 2008 – via LA Times.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tunc, Tanfer Emin (2008). "Harvey Karman and the super coil fiasco: A forgotten episode in the history of American abortion technology". The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care. 13: 4–8. doi:10.1080/13625180701746461. PMID 18283597.