Abortion Clinic: Water Tower Reproductive Center, Chicago

The Chicago Sun-Times ran a series called “The Abortion Profiteers” in 1978. It’s purpose was to document bad conditions in legal abortion clinics. The series proved that legalizing abortion did not lead to safer abortion.

One clinic featured in the series was Water Tower Reproductive Center.

Abortionist Arnold Bickham ran Water Tower Reproductive Center, where Sherry Emry underwent her fatal abortion in 1977.

Anna G., age 19, was injured in partial abortion by Pawan K. Rattan under supervision of Arnold Bickham at Water Tower in 1978.


According to “The Abortion Profiteers,” a 17-year-old girl had a $110 abortion performed at Water Tower by Arnold Bickham on Wednesday “bargain day” in 1978. Afterward, she returned with her mother, “sat doubled over in a straight-backed chair, sobbing.” Her mother did not have the $25 cash that Bickham demanded, and she “stood by the door to the operating rooms for five hours, pleading with anyone who came out,” asking to talk to Bickham. She offered to pay by check or be billed, but Bickham refused, and called police to remove mother and daughter from his clinic.


Phyllis M. alleged injury in a 1977 abortion at Water Tower by Arnold Bickham.


During the investigation for the Chicago Sun-Times “Abortion Profiteers” series, an undercover investigator reported seeing Arnold Bickham failing to wash his hands or put on sterile gloves between abortions. Nurses aides were alleged to routinely give injections, and the syringes were filled by untrained aides, in large numbers, and “stored for days before use, sometimes with casual regard for cleanliness.” Water Tower “operated for months without a single R.N.” An aide was told to note on a patient chart that the patient spent 10 minutes in the procedure room, half an hour for recovery, and “To recovery room per wheel chair. Alert and awake,” although patients were awake but “certainly weren’t alert. They are very groggy and may throw up.”

An undercover aide reported asking how to word her notation of a patient’s nausea, and was told to omit “any reference to the patient’s dizziness, nausea and need to lie down.” Patient forms were filled out reporting “no complications” without reviewing the file. Patients’ vitals were routinely faked. The aide said she was told, “Just make it up….Like 108 over 60. Make sure to use even numbers. On the top, don’t go under 90. On the bottom, don’t go over 70,” and for pulse, “We don’t do pulse. Fill it in if you want.”

Water Tower ran 9 ads daily under 9 names in 1 newspaper.

Undercover investigators noted that almost all charts were signed by Arnold Bickham even though other doctors were doing procedures.

Water Tower’s license was revoked by the state September 25, 1978, due to Bickham refusing to admit inspectors since November 1977. However, Bickham continued to practice there.

An investigator found 12% of abortions there were done on non-pregnant women. Undercover investigator reported emptying vacuum aspirator bottles after several abortions rather than after each abortion to perform a proper pathology exam. An aide was reprimanded for throwing abortion tissues trash because “It starts to smell if you leave it in the garbage in the sterilization room. Throw it down the toilet.” (“The Abortion Profiteers”)

An undercover investigator reported that employees were instructed by owner Arnold Bickham to lie on forms for CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act), and in one case an employee was fired for refusing. Bickham had them over-state their pay so the clinic would get reimbursed more than 50% of what he was actually paying them. They were also instructed to falisfy addresses in order to qualify for a work program for Chicago residents. They were also told to falisfy their employment record, since the clinic would be reimbursed only if the “trainee” had never worked before or had been unemployed at least 2 weeks before applying. (“The Abortion Profiteers”)

By Christina Dunigan

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