With women’s reproductive rights in serious jeopardy, I think it’s a good time to look back at a courageous Hillcrest woman who sacrificed her freedom to help others — my grandmother, Laura Miner. She lived and worked in Hillcrest in the 1930s and ’40s with an office at Fifth and University. Laura was a licensed chiropractor, but as one of the few female health practitioners, desperate requests for abortion services were common.
As a child, Laura had seen her mother almost die from a “back alley” abortion and knew she needed to help. So she took a trip to Europe, a long boat ride in those days, to get the training and equipment. It became common knowledge that a person seeking her services could leave a message with the proprietor at Fleming’s Drug Store on Park Boulevard.
Laura was eccentric, stubborn and always independent. During the mid-1930s Reg Rankin a creep who ran a syndicate of LA abortionists tried to strong-arm her into joining his group. He was angry with her for undercutting his prices, and Laura told him exactly where to stuff it. Rankin warned her that he could make her life very difficult and began spreading lies that she ran a dirty operation. Laura described Rankin as a “mobster” and a “thug with a nice manicure,” but he knew that a well-placed rumor could do as much damage as a baseball bat.
Laura had no choice. She gave in and joined his organization as an employee. A few years later, however, when Rankin was indicted, she had no qualms about trading testimony against him for her own immunity from prosecution.
Laura’s husband had died leaving her a single mom before this was socially acceptable. She took what she could get for a second husband — a real loser. During Rankin’s trial, Laura’s new husband took her two children and left for Arizona. She suspected he was abusing them, but couldn’t prove it or fight for custody as a felon. This was another reason she took the deal. Rankin went to jail, the legal dust settled, she got a divorce, got her kids back, and then went back to running her business.
Unlike Rankin’s syndicate, Laura’s fees were on a sliding scale with wealthy ladies helping to cover the cost for those less fortunate. Sometimes Laura was given jewelry or fur coats in lieu of payment, often worth much more than she would have charged in cash. A lady could then tell her husband that it had been lost or stolen and not have to ask for money.
Laura also had famous clients including movie stars getting away from the prying eyes of Hollywood, ballet dancers and athletes. Many kept standing appointments every few months, preferring this to the unreliable birth control available.
I find it ironic that Laura operated in Hillcrest for so long with such complete impunity. Everyone knew who she was, where she was and what she did. Nobody objected. Enforcing abortion laws was not a high priority. During the Depression years, people had sympathy for a woman not wanting another child. There was also sympathy during the war years when a pregnant girl was left behind following a shipped-out serviceman’s last hurrah.
With postwar stability and prosperity, sympathy was out and holier-than-thou moralizing was in. In 1949 an ambitious young D.A. was up for re-election. To make a name for himself as a “fearless fighter for decency” he had Laura arrested. The front page, two-inch high banner screamed, “ABORTIONIST ARRESTED!”
Her next two years were spent in a state penitentiary, hard time with hard women. She returned to Hillcrest, but never took up the business again. In the 1960s and ’70s when I knew Laura, she was still advocating for social reform with letters to legislators, petitions and peace protests. Because my sister was older and able to go places with my mom sooner, I spent a lot of time with Laura as my babysitter. My mother could never figure out why I found long talks with her mother so fascinating. I think we should cherish the elderly among us as living history books and learn all we can from them while we can.
About the author: 92103 resident Dr. Robin Beers continues the legacy of the women in her family. The community center is named for her mom.