Her slightly swollen belly concealed beneath an oversized men's undershirt, a young black woman scuffles into the Family Planning Associates Medical Group, an abortion clinic in La Mesa, Calif.
At 9:40 a.m., she speaks into the metal vent set in a safety-glass window near two doors-one in, one out, both locked. At 9:41, a hand pushes a clipboard out through a slot. At 9:44, the hand retracts the clipboard and the woman sits down. At 9:52, the in-door opens and the woman disappears. When she reappears through the out-door, her belly will be flatter.
This model of terminal efficiency belongs to Edward C. Allred, physician, champion quarter-horse breeder, and millionaire. Dr. Allred, 65, owns 25 Family Planning Associates (FPA) clinics in California and Chicago, which generate annual revenues of $70 million, according to a recent issue of Forbes.
The doctor earns buggy-loads more cash at Los Alamitos Race Course and Ruidoso Downs, horseracing venues he owns in California and New Mexico. That he could turn hefty profits in both the death and gambling industries is no surprise: Edward Allred has spent more than three decades mining gold from the darkest corners of American free enterprise-and doing so in the most efficient way possible.
Consider his abortion business: Dr. Allred founded it with Kenneth L. Wright in Los Angeles in 1969, shortly after California legalized abortion. At the time, the doctors performed all their abortions at Avalon Memorial Hospital, attracting women from surrounding states where it was still a crime to kill unborn children.
But the whole, compassion-laced hospital-doctor-patient thing apparently ran counter to Dr. Allred's assembly-line business sense. He now brags on his website that FPA's founders "immediately began to concentrate on developing simpler and less expensive abortion procedures," making FPA "the leading provider of abortion services in California."
By 1980, FPA had grown to a 12-clinic operation. That year Dr. Allred told the San Diego Union his doctors would crank out a staggering 60,000 abortions, allotting five minutes per patient-enough time to properly terminate a fetus without driving up labor and anesthesia costs: "We streamlined, we made efficiencies, we employed the suction technique better than anyone, and we eliminated needless patient-physician contact."
Such ghoulish pragmatism has its rewards: $5 million in annual profits for FPA, according to Forbes. Meanwhile, Allred the abortionist is trying to improve efficiency at his other enterprise: horseracing. Although racetracks still draw crowds of summer-suited gentlemen and genteel ladies in elegant hats and spectator pumps, the lifeblood of horseracing is gambling. Historic Churchill Downs, for example, earns 70 percent of its revenue from parimutuel betting. And although the sport of kings has been in decline since the 1960s, turning many track owners into paupers, Edward Allred isn't one of them.
At Los Alamitos, for example, the daily "handle," or total betting, has increased to $1.3 million, despite a steady five-year decline in attendance. Dr. Allred attributes the galloping cash flow to his decision to simulcast Los Alamitos races to other venues, thus enabling more gamblers to burn their money in off-track wagering. Business is also hot at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, where Dr. Allred and his partners turned $1 million in annual red ink into a profit by adding 300 slot machines two years ago.
That move was part of a growing push among track owners. Since 1985, annual horseracing attendance has fallen by half from 73 million. Industry insiders say the sport cannot survive without casino-style gaming at the tracks, according to a 1999 report by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC).
But saving tracks by converting them into so-called "racinos" may represent the exploitative underbelly of capitalism: More than one in three racetrack patrons is a pathological or problem gambler, according to the NGISC.
No problem for Dr. Allred: He told Forbes that he plans to install slot machines at Los Alamitos, too. To do it, he'll have to wage war with California's Indian tribes who recently acquired a constitutional monopoly on casino-style gaming in that state.
Meanwhile, the ever-efficient abortionist has a new deal cooking: The cable horseracing network TVG will this year extend its evening broadcast by two hours, netting new viewers in 7.6 million homes-all of whom can bet on Dr. Allred's Los Alamitos races via telephone, computer, or cable/satellite set-top box.
How efficient is that?