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The Davis Trial Accused Of Murder By Abortion

2206 words - 9 pages

The Queen vs. Davis case concerns the murder trial of Arthur Paul Davis and Alice Davis that occurred in 1875. In it, they were tried and convicted of murder for conducting an abortion; the killing of a fetus and subsequently causing death of the victims, Catherine Laing and Jane Vaughn Gilmour. This essay will examine the historical context of the case, what the trial reveals about the nature of women’s lives in Toronto during the 1870s as subordinate women who are deemed as caretakers and how women managed to end unwanted pregnancies. During the late 19th century ending an unwanted pregnancy was an illegal offence because it was considered unethical to kill a fetus. Women were not able to access safer alternatives such as contraception, as it was an offence to sell or advertise them at that time. Women did not claim they wanted an abortion directly, but rather that they wanted to be fixed of their problem. They did not feel guilty as they thought it was acceptable to induce abortion before the 3rd month of pregnancy or quickening of it, which under the English common law, it was not wrongful to procure an abortion prior to the feeling any movement of the fetus. Doing an Abortion was a private matter but nonetheless a criminal offence. Beginning in the early 19th century, laws were passed to support the prohibition of abortions; these then continued on to the revision and creation of the 1892 criminal code for abortion.
In 1875, Dr. Arthur Paul Davis and Alice Davis of Toronto, feloniously and willfully murdered Catherine Laing and then subsequently a week following on Sunday morning murdered Jane Vaughn Gilmour. They were found guilty of the crime committed to victim Gilmour as the case with Laing did not precede them to a guilty verdict. There were approximately 25 witnesses presented during trial and K. Mackenzie was for the Crown as Mr. C. Cameron represented as counsel for prisoners. Catherine Laing was a married woman, who left her husband and two children to work for another family as a washerwoman and had two children. Laing and her husband, George, were separated; she did not have any sexual relations with him before or after she left him. After her death George Laing’s suspicions led him to believe that she did not die of Typhoid fever as the man who buried her stated. Dr. Davis had hired Jacob Amour to build a coffin the size big enough to fit a body, and told him that it was case of Typhoid and presented him with the death certificate. She was put in a coffin and taken out of Toronto to Hamilton. Dr. Davis received the certificate of death from Dr. Isaac Ryall by stating that it was the case of typhoid. No one knew at the time that Catherine was pregnant or that she was had a family of her own. Suspicions grew about the cause of death as the body did not seem like a case of typhoid when examined; instead seemed like an induced abortion by means of violence. It was clearly noted during the investigation and...

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