|Order||DEAR DOCTOR SPENCER:
Abortion in a Small Town (26 min.)
|From the 1920s until his death in 1969, Dr. Robert Douglas
Spencer practiced medicine in a coal region of Pennsylvania. Dr. Spencer
treated colds, set fractures, and provided basic medical care. He also
performed more than 40,000 safe, illegal abortions.
After performing his first abortion in 1925 for a poor coal miner's wife (almost 50 years before Roe v. Wade's landmark decision), the doctor's reputation spread. Soon he was receiving letters from women across the country asking for his help. The citizens of Ashland, Pennsylvania looked the other way as young women walked to and from his office, and even protected him each time the state police tried to shut down his practice. Dr. Spencer was arrested three times, but never convicted.
DEAR Dr. SPENCER begins with a selection of letters from thousands of women pleading for his help. They come from students, housewives, husbands and boyfriends, and they reveal with painful clarity the desperation their writers felt. The program includes interviews from those who remember Dr. Spencer, including Ashland residents (his wife, his lawyer, and many of his friends); women who traveled in search of his safe care; and a juror who served at one of his trials and helped to acquit him, even though she opposes abortion.
The film is narrated by actress Lili Taylor and features music by Bay Area mandolinist Mike Marshall. The film also includes an appearance by author and Beat poet Hettie Jones who wrote about her experience traveling to Dr. Spencer's clinic in her 1990 memoir How I Became Hettie Jones.
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