Isabell Cuda

Isabell Cuda1950s, illegaluntrained, illinoisOn November 12, 1952, 22-year-old Mrs. Isabell Cuda died in Rockford, Illinois from complications of an abortion. A 75-year-old midwife named Mary Murawski was convicted in Isabell’s death.

The following is verbatim from the court opinion in Murawski’s appeal (People of Illinois vs. Mary Murawsky)

The proof upon which the prosecution relies to sustain this conviction is practically uncontradicted.

Mary Murawski was an elderly lady in her 75th year, of German ancestry and was able to read and write English but meagerly. Although unlicensed, she had been a midwife for many years.

Early in November, 1952, the defendant was visited by the mother of Isabella Cuda and was reminded of their friendly relationship when they lived in the same apartment building several years ago. Mrs. Castronovo, on that occasion, told the defendant that her daughter was pregnant; that she was now separated from her no-good husband and would receive no support from him for the expected child; that he had never supported the child which they have and appealed to the defendant to perform an abortion.

The defendant told her that she was busy, but that she would take care of her on the following day. The defendant agreed to perform the service, for which she was paid $50.

On the following day Isabella Cuda went to defendant’s home in Rockford, Illinois. There a hard rubber tube was inserted into the vagina and uterus of Isabella and she was instructed by the defendant to allow it to remain there until the following day.

On the next day the defendant went to the home of Isabella Cuda and her mother where she removed the tube and administered a douche. As a result of the foregoing Isabella Cuda developed an infection which caused her death ten days later in the Swedish Memorial Hospital in Rockford.

Two policewomen of the Rockford police department questioned the defendant and prepared a statement in writing which was read to the defendant and signed by her as her free and voluntary act. An assistant State’s Attorney interrogated the defendant, and a stenographic transcript of that interview was admitted into evidence. The signed statement and the transcribed interview, containing admissions of all the necessary ingredients of the crime charged, were received in evidence.

Dr. Paul A. VanPernis, a skilled pathologist, testified that immediately following the death of Isabella Cuda, he performed an autopsy and found that she had been pregnant; that an abortion had been performed; that there was no reason why such abortion was necessary for the preservation of life; and that the deceased died from an infection caused by the abortion.

Vincent B. Castronovo, Jr., a brother of deceased and an officer in the United States Air Force, testified that he was called to the bedside of his sick sister, Isabella Cuda, during the last three days of her illness; that a priest had been called to administer the last sacraments; that she was in constant pain and breathing with great difficulty; that during this period when death seemed imminent, she told him that Mary Murawski had performed an abortion on her.

After preliminary proof, this testimony was ruled admissible as a dying declaration. Mary Murawski did not testify. Her daughter, Irene Manoli, was the sole defense witness and her testimony was in noway helpful to her mother in her defense. The record, therefore, clearly indicates the defendant’s guilt.

Murawsky’s first grounds of appeal has been that there’s been no proof that Isabell had indeed been pregnant. “A careful reading of the testimony of Dr. Paul A. Van Pernis causes us to reject such a contention. He testified that he was a pathologist and was called to perform an autopsy on the body of Isabella Cuda on November 12, 1952; that his findings were that Mrs. Cuda had recently been pregnant; that there were external and internal evidences of such pregnancy; that the womb had recently been emptied and that it had been infected; that this infection had damaged the kidneys and liver and thus produced death. It was his opinion that death was caused by an infection in the womb and that this woman had been pregnant previous to the infection in the womb.”

Murawsky’s conviction stood.

She had previously been implicated in the 1928 abortion death of Lola Whiteman.

Isabell’s abortion was unusual in that it was performed by an amateur, rather than by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.
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During the 1950s, we see an anomaly: Though maternal mortality had been falling during the first half of the 20th Century, and abortion mortality in particular had been plummeting, the downward trend slowed, then reversed itself briefly. I have yet to figure out why. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1950’s.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
Source: 3 Ill.App.2d 168, 120 N.E.2d 871; Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District.Castronovo v. Murawsky Gen. No. 10744.July 14, 1954

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