Juliette O’Brien

Juliette O’Brien1900s, 20s, pennsylvania, illegaldoctorAt about 9 a.m. on July 17, 1901, 23-year-old widow Juliette “Julia” O’Brien, an immigrant from France, died at 3187 Carson Street in Pittsburgh, from complications of an illegal abortion which Julia had told her family had been perpetrated by Dr. Michael A. Arnholt on July 4 or 5.

At the coroner’s inquest, Julia’s mother, through a French interpreter, added that on or around July 12, “My daughter told me that Dr. Arnholt had abused her several times when she was in his office.”

Julia’s sister-in-law, Helen Maurice, said that she’d gone to Arnholt’s office with Julia on July 5. Julia, she said, went back into another area with Arnholt and was there for more than a hour. Julia was pale and weak when she emerged, barely able to walk.

Arnolt went to the family home on July 15, cussing up a storm and berating Julia for telling her family about the abortion.

MicahelArnholtHeadshot.jpgTwo other physicians — Dr. W. H. McCombs and Dr. George P. Rossman, were called in to attend to help attend Julia in her illness. Her mother had told both of them about the abortion, but they failed to report the abortion to the Coroner and were first censured then arrested.

Julia’s brother and sister had been planning to file suit and expose Arnholt’s abortion practice if he did not pay them $5000 in damages to cover the cost of caring for the 21-month-old child the abortion had left an orphan. He reportedly begged them on his knees not to subject him to the ignominy of being exposed as an abortionist. Putting him behind bars, he said, would not bring their sister back.

Julia’s sister said that a distraught Arnholt had torn at his hair and told them, “I know I did wrong. I know I did wrong in causing this poor girl to die.” He offered to pay all of the expenses related to Julia’s death and to pay $3 per week for the maintenance of Julia’s toddler until the child reached the age of 21.

Julia’s siblings told Arnholt that they wanted the $5,000 up front instead, and decided to give him time to think about it. they agreed to meet with him on July 23 to discuss the situation. However, several hours before the scheduled meeting Arnholt committed suicide in his office by shooting himself through the heart.

Arnholt, a 60-year-old former legislator described as a “prominent physician,” had other troubles that he had been facing besides the possible lawsuit by Julia’s family: He had evidently blackmailed previous patients into keeping quiet, leading one of them to report him and uncover his abortion ring and blackmail scheme.

Julia’s abortion was typical of criminal abortions in that it was performed by a physician.

Note, please, that with ordinary public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good. For more about abortion and abortion deaths in the first years of the 20th century, see Abortion Deaths 1900-1909.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


  • Coroner Case Files, Case 190109_185 (Check for more info)
  • “Cause of Suicide,” Cincinnati Post, Jul. 26, 1901
  • “Prominent Physician of Pittsburgh a Suicide,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jul. 26, 1901
  • “Begged for Mercy on His Knees,” Bay City (MI) Times, Jul. 27, 1901
  • “Coroner Censured Doctors,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, Aug. 24, 1901
  • “Grave Charges Made Against Dead Doctor,” Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 24, 1901
  • “Two Physicians Held by a Coroner,” Liverpool (OH) Evening Review, Sept. 5, 1901
  • “Two Physicians Were Held for Grand Jury,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, Sept. 5, 1901








  1. 1900s
  2. 1910-1919
  3. 1920s
  4. 1930s
  5. 1940s
  6. 1950s
  7. 1960s
  8. 1970s
  9. 1980s
  10. 1990s
  11. 19th century
  12. 2000-2009
  13. 20s
  14. 30s
  15. 40s
  16. NAF
  17. abortifacient
  18. abortion
  19. abortion mill
  20. abortion mortality
  21. abortionists
  22. abortionists — female
  23. abortionists — male
  24. alabama
  25. anesthesia
  26. arizona
  27. black women
  28. botched abortion
  29. california
  30. chicago
  31. colorado
  32. connecticut
  33. cover-up
  34. death
  35. deaths
  36. deception
  37. delay in transport
  38. delay in treatment
  39. district of columbia
  40. dumped body
  41. ectopic
  42. embolism
  43. falsifying forms
  44. fetal indications
  45. florida
  46. former criminal abortionist
  47. george tiller
  48. georgia
  49. hemorrhage death
  50. hospitals
  51. illegal – doctor
  52. illegal – midwife
  53. illegal – nurse
  54. illegal – paramedical
  55. illegal – post roe
  56. illegal – unknown
  57. illegal – untrained
  58. illegal abortion
  59. illinois
  60. inadequate documents
  61. inadequate equipment
  62. inadequate resuscitation
  63. incomplete abortion
  64. indiana
  65. infection
  66. kansas
  67. legal abortion
  68. llinois
  69. louisiana
  70. maryland
  71. massachusetts
  72. maternal indications
  73. maternal mortality
  74. michigan
  75. mills
  76. missouri
  77. mortality
  78. national abortion federation
  79. new jersey
  80. new mexico
  81. new york
  82. north carolina
  83. ohio
  84. oklahoma
  85. pennsylvania
  86. planned parenthood
  87. pre-roe legal
  88. previous misconduct
  89. prostaglandin
  90. quackery
  91. questionable stories
  92. ru-486
  93. rupture
  94. saline
  95. secret abortion
  96. self-induced
  97. suicide
  98. teens
  99. texas
  100. wisconsin