Murder poses difficult challenges for a compassionate 19th-century Quaker midwife in Massachusetts.
When Rose Carroll is called to the bedside of impoverished Charity Skells, a woman who already has five children and appears to be having a miscarriage, she finds her patient’s bleeding so excessive that she takes her to the hospital. The doctors are unable to staunch the bleeding; Charity dies; and Rose suspects that she may have resorted to an illegal abortion. Before the Comstock Act of 1873, abortions were legal, but ever since it was passed, even birth control has been against the law, placing a heavy burden on women who bear child after child their families can't afford and often sending both mother and baby to an early grave. Rose knows how dangerous illegal abortions can be, especially if they're not done properly. She fears there may have been a motive for Charity’s deliberate murder when she realizes her patient's husband is having a dalliance with a woman he works with at Lowell’s Boat Shop. Charity’s well-to-do parents disliked her husband so much that they refused to help the couple financially and are now devastated and furious at her death. After Rose (Turning the Tide, 2018, etc.) shares her suspicions with police detective Kevin Donovan, a well-placed friend, he manages to arrange an autopsy that proves Charity died from a perforated uterus. Rose misses the sage advice of her fiance, David, a physician who is out of town. And she’s sad because her 18-year-old niece is about to wed while she and David still await his mother’s approval. Rose’s search for possible abortion providers earns her threats and puts her in physical danger. Because her actions are motivated by her faith, she won’t let threats keep her from doing the right thing as she seeks the truth.
Plenty of suspects keep the pot bubbling as Maxwell examines the roots of the abortion controversy that continues to this day.