Prosecuting Abortion in Connecticut

Very few cases of prosecution for abortion in colonial America exist. Of those that do, the case of Sarah Grosvenor may be unique, since it includes a description of an attempted surgical abortion. In 1742, unmarried Sarah Grosvenor of Pomfret, Connecticut became pregnant. Pressured by her lover, Amasa Sessions, to take an herbal abortifacient and, later, to undergo a surgical abortion at the hands of Doctor John Hallowell, Sarah tragically died from an infection. Notably, the grand jury failed to return an indictment against Hallowell for Sarah’s murder and no indictment for murder was even considered for her unborn fetus. Instead, the jury found Hallowell guilty of having attempted to destroy “the Health and Soundness of the said Sarah…and [of] the said fruit of her body.” The documents in this case suggest several things: that abortion was readily imaginable as a solution to unwanted pregnancy, that it nevertheless still might provoke feelings of shame, and that women, then as now, bore a heavier burden than did men.


To learn more about the case of Sarah Grosvenor, please visit the website "Taking the Trade" maintained by Professor Cornelia Dayton of the Department of History of the University of Connecticut.