Essay on The Davis Trial-Accused of Murder by Abortion

Essay on The Davis Trial-Accused of Murder by Abortion

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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 preced...


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...936), Aug 10, 1875, 1875.
Canada, Criminal Code, RSC 1892, c 29 (Ottawa: Queen's Printer).
Archives of Ontario, RG-22-392, Attorney General of Ontario, Criminal Indictment Files, York County, 1875, R. vs. Davis. "Inquiry"

McLaren, Angus. Birth control and abortion in canada, 1870–1920. Canadian Historical Review Volume 59 (3): 319-40.

Backhouse, Constance B. "Involuntary motherhood: abortion, birth control and the law in nineteenth century Canada." Windsor YB Access Just. 3 (1983): 61.

----. Petticoats and prejudice women and law in nineteenth century canada. ACLS humanities E-book., eds. American Council of Learned Societies - York University., Osgoode Society. Toronto: Published for Osgoode Society by Women's Press.

Beahen, William. "Abortion and Infanticide in Western Canada 1874 to 1916: A Criminal Case Study." Canadian Historical Review (1978).

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