Juliette O'Brien #1900s #20s #pennsylvania #illegaldoctor At 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.
Two 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
- 19th century
- abortion mill
- abortion mortality
- abortionists -- female
- abortionists -- male
- black women
- botched abortion
- delay in transport
- delay in treatment
- district of columbia
- dumped body
- falsifying forms
- fetal indications
- former criminal abortionist
- george tiller
- hemorrhage death
- illegal - doctor
- illegal - midwife
- illegal - nurse
- illegal - paramedical
- illegal - post roe
- illegal - unknown
- illegal - untrained
- illegal abortion
- inadequate documents
- inadequate equipment
- inadequate resuscitation
- incomplete abortion
- legal abortion
- maternal indications
- maternal mortality
- national abortion federation
- new jersey
- new mexico
- new york
- north carolina
- planned parenthood
- pre-roe legal
- previous misconduct
- questionable stories
- secret abortion