Ruth Weir

Ruth Weir1920s, newjersey, infection, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: Ruth Weir, age 26, died on February 16, 1920 from complications of an abortion perpetrated in New Jersey by Dr. Maurice Sturm.

On February 16, 1929, Mrs. Ruth Weir, of East Orange, New Jersey, died at Orange Memorial Hospital of sepsis contracted through a criminal abortion.

Dr. James R. Chamberlain testified that he had examined Ruth at her home and had admitted her to the hospital due to a septic condition. Dr. James Wilson testified that he had treated Ruth in the hospital during late January and that she was suffering from septicemia.

Dr. Maurice Sturm was arrested and charged with first degree murder when Ruth implicated him in a deathbed statement. Mrs. Frieda Sanger testified that Sturm had sent Ruth to her home to recuperate. Sturm admitted to performing the abortion, but insisted that it had not been illegal because it was necessary to save Ruth’s life.

During the trial, Sturm’s nurse, Gertrude Halloway, responded to questions with answers like, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t remember” until the judge threatened to prosecute her for perjury. She was removed from the courtroom, and her attorney later contacted the District Attorney, requesting immunity in exchange for her testimony. She later admitted that she had lied to protect him and that she had seen him perform the abortion.

The District Attorney claimed that Sturm failed to keep proper records, including concealing names and appointments of patients.

After his arrest, Sturm alleged that District Attorney William D. Ryan and Judge Hanley of the District Court had come to his home and demanded $10,000 or they would prosecute him “to the limit.”

Sturm, who was later acquitted of the manslaughter charge in Ruth’s death, said that that $1000 he had given the judge after DA Ryan’s resignation was a gift and not part of the bribe money.

This case raises several important points we would do well to remember:

  • The majority of criminal abortions were performed by physicians, not amateurs.
  • If the doctor thought the abortion was necessary to save the mother’s life, all he had to do to protect himself from prosecution was keep adequate records.
  • When an abortionist killed a patient before legalization, the law would look at him closely and not shrug the death off as unimportant.

We don’t know if Strum kept poor records on Ruth because the abortion was illegal, or because he was a quack who just kept poor records.


  • New York Times 3-19-30, 3-31-30, 3-22-30, 3-26-30, 3-27-30, 3-28-30, 4-10-30)
  • “Threatened by Judge, Nurse Confesses She Lied to Save Doctor,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mar. 29, 1929
  • “Dr. Sturm Indicted In Death of Woman,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr. 11, 1929
  • “Judge Named In Physician’s Extortion Tale,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mar. 25,1930
  • “Nurse Acts as State Witness Against Doctor,” Jamaica (Long Island) Daily Press, undated clipping
  • “Charges Judge Sought Bribe,” Boston Herald, Mar. 26, 1930
  • “Dr. Strum Acquitted of Manslaughter,” Trenton Evening Times, Mar. 28, 1930
  • “Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History,” Angus McLarn, 2002




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