On February 26, 1924, Wanda Szidzewicz died in a Massachusetts hospital from septicemia due to an abortion performed on her on February 6 by Ida Cantor. Wanda had developed septicemia and was hospitalized on February 11..
Testimony at Ida's trial indicated that Ida's profession was midwife, since she delivered at least one baby that Dr. Sawyer and Ida's own husband testified to.
The jury found that Ida used improperly sterilized or non-sterile instruments in the abortion. A key part of the prosecution's case was a deathbed statement by the injured woman.
The medical examiner found "no evidence of violence outside or in", but did find evidence that instruments had been used to perform an abortion. He also testified that Wanda had said that Ida Cantor had performed the abortion in question. A Dr. Sawyer testified that he'd told Wanda that she was dying, testimony intended to add credibility to her deathbed statement.
A doctor from the hospital, however, testified that the death and expulsion of the fetus, along with Wanda's injuries, might have been brought about with "an accidental abortion", such as that caused by lifting a heavy box. Hospital records stated that Wanda had lifted a heavy box at some point, "four days before".
Ida's attorney's launched a scattershot and ineffectual defense. Part of it was putting forth Ida's assertion that she she'd had to ask the police why she was being arrested -- she claimed that this proved that she'd not known anything abut Wanda's abortion or death. Her lawyer asked an expert witness if the "constant jarring operation of a sewing machine" could ahve caused Wanda to miscarry, but never introduced any evidence that Wanda had operated a sewing machine. The defense had tried to place Ida's grandchild's birth certificate into evidence as proof that she'd been at the child's birthday party in New York at the time of the abortion and thus couldn't have performed it. Ida's husband's testimony did nothing to aid her; in fact, it contradicted her.
After her conviction, Ida appealed, but her conviction was upheld. Wanda's widower, Waclaw , also successfully sued Ida.
When reading of abortions in this era, keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
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