Governor Gavin Newsom announced a posthumous pardon for Laura Miner, a California woman who helped provide abortions for women in the 1930’s and 1940’s decades before Roe V. Wade, on Friday, bringing forward the issue of abortion only days before an election where abortion remains one of the top issues for voters.
Miner was a licensed chiropractor in San Diego in the 1930’s. In 1934, at the age of 35, she began offering women abortions and other reproductive healthcare, managing to continue doing this throughout the Great Depression and World War II. In 1948, Miner was finally caught and arrested, and was sentenced the next year. As the California State Constitution at the time had abortion down as a felony, Miner was subsequently sentenced to four years in jail for performing abortions and conspiracy to perform abortions. The 1850 abortion felony law was subsequently eroded in future years and was ultimately done away with in 1973 following the Roe v. Wade decision.
Miner’s case was largely forgotten until this year with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in the Supreme Court and California placing Proposition 1 on the ballot to guarantee reproductive freedom for women brought her case to light. While Prop 1 is expected to pass on Tuesday, the issue of abortion and reproductive rights for women being a major part of many Democratic candidates positions led many Democratic lawmakers to hold up the issue against a growing expectation of numerous Republican victories. With the GOP having an 84% chance to take back the House, and a 55% chance of retaking the Senate, and many House races in California districts now poised to be in jeopardy for Democratic candidates, a push on abortion rights, a unifying issue for most on the left, was expected. On Friday, it came in the form of Miner’s pardon, with Newsom and others saying in official statements much more about the current issue of abortion rather than Miner.
Newsom’s latest pardon
“In California, we’re never going back to a time when women were forced to seek basic health care in back rooms and underground clinics,” said Governor Newsom in a statement on Friday. “Laura Miner’s story is a powerful reminder of the generations of people who fought for reproductive freedom in this country, and the risks that so many Americans now face in a post-Roe world. Miner paid a price for taking a stand, and today we’re taking a step to right this injustice and reaffirm California’s commitment to defending the hard-won progress made by countless advocates and health care providers over the decades.”
Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) added that “Laura Miner was a hero ahead of her time who willingly traded her own freedom to save countless women – women who risked everything to make their own healthcare decisions and, in a very basic sense, choose their own future. Laura’s bravery deserved to be commended, not prosecuted, and I’m grateful that we have evolved enough to be able to pardon her today. Laura’s story of subversive care eerily foreshadows what we may see as courts and statehouses across the country roll back our reproductive rights. We remember her, and the generations of women who had no option but to seek care in the shadows, as we continue the work to ensure that California is a beacon of reproductive justice and access for all.”
However, many elections experts said on Friday that the pardon comes too little, too late for changing most people’s minds on races, due to other issues, such as crime and inflation worries, overtaking the issue of abortion in the past several weeks.
“It’s obvious what they were trying to rally support with this pardon,” explained Ana Ruiz, an pollster focusing on state propositions , to the Globe on Friday. “You can read that in their statements. But if they were trying to get people to fall back in the Democratic fold before election day, then they picked the wrong issue. The pardon should have been about someone who broke a law back then that is no longer illegal now. But instead, they politicized it.
“They are just going to solidify people voting for their candidates already with this move. Everyone else is concerned about where the economy is going and being able to afford food and to keep the lights on. Prop 1 will still pass just fine, but for the candidates? This isn’t going to help much.”
Miner’s pardon was the second posthumous pardon Newsom has given since taking office in 2019.