Colonial Maryland in 1656: Test Jurisdiction for Abortion Prosecutions?

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Colonial Maryland   As you got up on September 22, I doubt you gave a thought to Judith Catchpole.   Ever hear of her?   On September 22, 1656 in the Royal Colony of Maryland she was tried for the murder of her unborn child, that is an abortion, by the first all-female jury in our history. Seven single and four married women comprised the jury for the trial ordered by the Generall Provinciall Court (no longer in operation, I believe).   It didn’t take long for these colonial women to acquit Judith who defended by claiming she had never been pregnant, much less did she abort a fetus.

An interesting case.   Absent testimony as to Judith’s condition or presence at what appeared to be an abortion, neither of which appears to have occurred, her credibility may have been the persuasive element. Or…this jury of women just wasn’t going to destroy Judith to satisfy a law made by men.   I wonder.

-Ralph Stein

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