Essential California: How a young Los Angeles couple’s illegal abortion paved the way for Roe v. Wade

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California program. NEWS BULLETIN. It is Tuesday, June 28. I’m writer Laura J. Nelson, filling in for Justin Ray.

Women seeking abortions in Los Angeles County in 1966 had few options, none of them good. A law that had been on the books for nearly a century made it a felony to perform, provide or procure an abortion anywhere in California unless the woman’s life was in danger.

But desperate women found ways to do it. Some traveled to Tijuana; others sought clandestine providers in Southern California, hoping to find a doctor, not a butcher.

Botched abortions performed in secret harmed hundreds of women each year. In 1966, at least 2,500 women were admitted to Los Angeles County General Hospital after what The Times described at the time as “incomplete” abortions, and doctors were required to report to police if they believed a patient had sought a termination.

A special squad of the Los Angeles Police Department counted between 40 and 60 arrests and prosecutions of doctors a year. One Los Angeles physician was sentenced to one year in jail.

That was the scenario when 22-year-old Cheryl Bryant learned she was pregnant in April 1966. She and her boyfriend, Clifton Palmer, were “poor as church mice,” she recalls, and couldn’t afford a baby. She wanted to graduate from college and become a teacher; he, a school psychologist.

In a story that reflects the country’s past and future, my colleague Brittny Mejia tells the story of Cliff and Cheryl – now in their 70s – and their search for a way out. She also introduces us to the two men who helped them, including Dr. Leon P. Belous, who was arrested and convicted of conspiracy to commit an abortion after LAPD raided the apartment where Cheryl was recovering from the illegal procedure.

Belous’ appeal of his conviction led to a 1967 state Supreme Court ruling that California’s century-old abortion law was unconstitutional. The People v. Belous ruling was believed to be the first time a U.S. high court had ruled on the constitutionality of an abortion law, and it was cited in a wave of similar challenges in other states, including the Texas lawsuit that became known as Roe v. Wade.

[Read the story: “Her illegal abortion paved the way for Roe. 56 years later she shares her story”]

And now, this is what’s happening all over California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


A coup for former councilman Jose Huizar: A downtown developer was found guilty Monday of paying a $500,000 bribe to ensure that Huizar, the head of the city’s powerful Planning Commission, supported his company’s 20-story residential project. The case provided a preview of some of the arguments that will be heard next year when Huizar goes on trial on racketeering, bribery and other charges. Los Angeles Times

L.A.’s last Japanese boarding house is safe, for now. An East Hollywood house that once served as communal space for dozens of Japanese immigrants has been designated a historic-cultural monument. But with the building under new ownership, the seven remaining tenants fear losing their $400 to $500 rent control agreements, as well as their community. Los Angeles Times

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast “The Times,” hosted each weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen in our Appsubscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


Gasoline tax refund: California’s $9.5 billion gas tax rebate plan would provide rebates on a sliding scale based on three income levels, tax filing status, and number of children in the household. Here’s what we know. Los Angeles Times

Abortion amendment: California voters will decide in November whether the state constitution should explicitly protect the right to abortion and contraception. The proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit the state from “denying or interfering with an individual’s reproductive freedom in his most intimate decisions, which includes his fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and his fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception.” Los Angeles Times


Amtrak derailment: Three people were killed and at least 50 others were injured when an Amtrak train headed from Los Angeles to Chicago collided with a freight truck Monday afternoon in rural Missouri. The railroad crossing that intersected the gravel road had no crossing arms to prevent drivers from entering the tracks. Los Angeles Times

Passengers help others climb out of a railroad car on their side.

An Amtrak passenger train lies on its side after derailing near Mendon, Mo.

(Dax McDonald)

Bus accident in El Segundo: A commuter bus operated by the city of Los Angeles collided with a tractor-trailer parked on the Imperial Freeway in El Segundo near LAX Monday morning, leaving 20 people injured. Los Angeles Times


Beetle vs. thorn: Old, twisted pine trees don’t die of old age, but they can be killed, including by bark beetles. Since 2013, thousands of pines ranging in age from 144 to 1,612 years have died in Death Valley National Park and in high-elevation bristlecone forests scattered across southern Utah. Can these living symbols of longevity, strength and perseverance be saved? Los Angeles Times

“Access can translate into life.” Medi-Cal managed care plans are not required to contract with state-of-the-art cancer centers. That means that at one of the hardest times of their lives, low-income Californians may not have access to the most advanced cancer treatment centers in the entire Golden State. A bill in Sacramento could change that, writes columnist Anita Chabria. Los Angeles Times

A man stands in the middle of his backyard landscaping

Primo Castro’s mother died of gallbladder cancer in 2004. Nearly 20 years later, Castro wonders if a clinical trial-not available through his Medi-Cal insurance-could have made a difference.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

His and hers cataract surgeries, but his was 20 times greater. A husband and wife who are on the same CalPERS health insurance plan had identical cataract surgeries four months apart. She owed $204, while he had to pay $4,057. Kaiser Health News


One man’s mission to legalize ferrets: In only two states-California and Hawaii-is it illegal to keep ferrets as pets. A San Diego County resident has fought for three decades to change that law, and even ran for governor in 2002 on a platform of legalizing ferrets. (But now he’s considering a move to Mexico, where it’s legal to keep Merlin, Noodle and Astro as pets. Los Angeles Times

This watermelon sold for $6,100 in Japan in 2008. Seedless black watermelons, as they are called in the United States, are also now grown in California, selling for $8 and up. San Francisco Chronicle

He doesn’t want to be an American idiot: “Green Day” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong says he will renounce his U.S. citizenship after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at


Los Angeles: 91, sunny. San Diego: 75, sunny. San Francisco: 70, sunny. San Jose: 84, sunny. Fresno: 106 (wow!) and sunny. Sacramento: 100 and sunny.


Today California Memory is from John Thomson:

After driving through blizzards from North Dakota for three days, I first arrived in California on the night of January 2, 1969, to enter UC Santa Barbara the next day.

When I woke up and walked out of my motel room, it was bright sunshine and 70 degrees, the birds were singing and I could smell eucalyptus. I knew I had arrived in paradise and would never leave. And, barring military service, I haven’t. Whatever our trials and tribulations, it is still a wonderful place to live.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us(Please keep your story to 100 words).

Please tell us what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send your comments to [email protected].

Leave a Comment