For over fifty years Dr. Robert Spencer (1889-1969) practiced medicine in the small coal-mining town of Ashland, PA. As the only town doctor, he was known by everyone as a dedicated medical professional who treated the townspeople’s many ailments and injuries, from Black Lung Disease to tonsillectomies. But it was also generally known that he would willingly perform safe and reliable abortions and that women «in trouble» could consult him without shame or fear.Of course, many disapproved of his not-so-secret and illegal abortion practice. But he was so committed to the principle of choice, at a time when this was not an easy position to defend, that he endured being blackmailed, often shunned in public, censured by the American Medical Association, arrested by the police, and put on trial. Despite all this, he never spent a night in jail and his clinic always remained open for business. As his reputation grew, his detractors labeled him «King of the Abortionists», and when he died in 1969 his death notice was announced on the national news with the estimate that he had performed 100,000 abortions.
Vincent Genovese has done yeoman’s work in accurately reconstructing Dr. Spencer’s life and career by researching his correspondence, interviewing surviving Ashland residents who knew him, and combing through old newspaper archives. This unique biography is a must read for anyone interested in the issue of abortion.
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