SUMMARY: On March 25, 1848, 20-year-old Ann Gallager of Boston died from what was most likely a self-induced abortion, though on her deathbed she implicated Dr. John Stevens, who had on multiple occasions refused to do the abortion himself.
In January of 1848, 20-year-old Ann Gallager of Boston approached a married friend, Catherine Beath, with the news that she was pregnant. Ann asked Catherine to go with her to Dr. John Stevens to arrange an abortion.
“The doctor refused, saying that he was an old man and did not do such things.” Ann offered him $50, Catherine said, but Stevens insisted that “he would not do it for all the world.”
Ann was angry, and went home to try to abort the baby herself.
She tried pouring boiling water over tobacco leaves and breathing the steam. She tried drinking some rum in which she had soaked rusty nails. Finally, she tried a knitting needle, which Catherine took away from her.
Ann retorted to Catherine that she was going to do the abortion one way or another. She went to Catherine’s house to get the knitting needle for another attempt, this time producing some bleeding.
By this time, in February, Ann’s clothes were getting tight. She tried vigorous exercise and pressing hard on her abdomen with her hands.
In March, Ann went to Dr. Stebbins, asking for some abortifacient pills. She described her prior attempts at abortion, including the bleeding after the knitting needle attempt. “I told her if she continued to use the means thus far employed, she would kill herself.”
As March wore on, Ann took ill. She gave a sworn statement that on March 15, she had gone to Dr. John Stevens for an abortion, which he had done with instruments. Two days later she expelled the dead baby, a boy. Ann’s condition continued to deteriorate until her death on March 25.
The primary evidence that the state presented in Dr. Stevens’s trial consisted of Ann’s statement and the testimony of a prostitute named Mary Ann Coombs who said she had gone with Ann to see Dr. Stevens, who had taken her for some time into a back room for, Mary Ann believed, an abortion. The defense brought forth a number of witnesses who had at various times been in jail with Mary Ann Coombs and disagreed as to whether or not she was a liar, but who also testified that Mary Ann told them that Stevens had not, in fact, perpetrated an abortion on Ann.
Stevens was acquitted.
- “Abortion and Death,” The New-Hampshire Patriot, Apr. 6, 1848
- “Trial of Dr. John Stevens,” Boston Herald, Mar. 27, 1849
- “Dr. Stevens Acquitted,” Baltimore Sun, Mar. 31, 1849
- “Serious,” Weekly Wisconsin, Apr. 19, 1848