The physician whose 1967 conviction for procuring an abortion led the state Supreme Court to declare California’s 1850 abortion law unconstitutional has died at age 84. Dr. Leon Paul Belous died at Desert Hospital on Thursday after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Belous’ appeal of his 1967 convictions for criminal procurement of an abortion and conspiracy led to a 4-3 ruling by the state Supreme Court in 1969 declaring California’s 1850 criminal abortion law unconstitutional.
Belous accepted $500 from a couple seeking an abortion and gave them an address in Chula Vista. He was convicted under a law making it a felony to perform, provide or procure an abortion, unless necessary to preserve the woman’s life. Belous was fined $5,000 and placed on two years’ probation.
The court found that a fundamental right to decide about one’s own pregnancy was at stake, but struck down the law on the grounds of vagueness, ruling that the exception for abortions necessary to preserve life was undefined, was applied unevenly and might be interpreted to apply to cases in which statistics showed abortion was safer than childbirth as well as those in which imminent death was threatened. The opinion was written by the late Justice Raymond Peters.
By the time the ruling was issued, the 1850 abortion law had been replaced by the 1967 Beilenson Act, signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, which gave California the nation’s most liberal abortion law. It too was declared unconstitutional by the same court in 1972.