California’s legislature has sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk that could jail whistleblowers, undercover investigators and others who report on the health care industry without permission.
Written by Planned Parenthood and passed on Wednesday, AB 1671 is a response to undercover pro-life investigative videos that brought to light the abortion giant’s use of illegal abortions to allegedly make illegal profit. According to a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood’s California chapter, the bill is meant to protect abortionists.
“If we’re going to protect the right to abortion, we must protect the privacy and safety of medical providers,” said Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC), in a press statement. “We worked hard to craft a bill that balances the rights of privacy and the rights of free speech.”
The bill had originally been designed to punish both investigators and media outlets that used information gathered through undercover work. However, pressure from media groups caused bill sponsor Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez to eliminate the latter portion, leaving just investigators potentially facing three years in jail or a $2,500 fine after a first offense.
In its Wednesday press release, PPAC claimed that “Planned Parenthood health centers have seen a 900 percent increase in threats and violence, culminating in the shooting at a Colorado health center killing three and injuring nine.”
But groups and individuals across the political spectrum say the bill would chill First Amendment speech. The LA Times’ editorial page, for example, condemned the modified bill, saying it would “would heap more criminal and civil penalties on making a secret recording — an act that’s already prohibited by state law, even when done in the public interest — simply to satisfy an interest group popular among Sacramento Democrats.”
Additionally, the bill “would further disincentivize potential whistleblowers from recording malfeasance when they witness it,” said the editors of the influential newspaper. They also noted that “state law already makes it a criminal violation of privacy, punishable by up to 3 years in prison, to use an electronic device to listen in on or record people without their permission.”
The Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor praised the Times for its position, telling TheDC that he’s “for more transparency” for Planned Parenthood, given that it “is funded by tax dollars.”
The bill is “an assault on the First Amendment,” Less Government President Seton Motley told TheDC. “The underlying assumption of the law is, ‘everybody who protests abortions is a threat to the health and safety of abortion doctors and people seeking abortions,’ which is absurd. There are protests every day at abortion clinics where no violence whatsoever occurs.”
Motley dismissed PPAC’s reference to Robert Dear, who engaged in a shooting spree at a Colorado Planned Parenthood abortion center and allegedly told police “no more baby parts” after being arrested. “A ham sandwich causes people to become unhinged. An unhinged person shoots someone, and they want to take my gun. You don’t take away everybody’s free speech rights because someone, somewhere, might be insane.”
In a brief floor speech, Republican State Senator John Moorlach urged his colleagues to oppose the bill, saying, “When 60 Minutes uses a hidden camera and discovers a unique story, it’s called outstanding journalism. So when a private citizen does it and unmasks a very, very unpleasant truth, it’s a call for legislation.”
And both David Daleiden – founder of the Center for Medical Progress, which conducted the investigations Planned Parenthood wants to make illegal – and Live Action founder Lila Rose said in separate statements that the bill would allow Planned Parenthood to avoid transparency.
California is a two-party recording state, which means that both parties in a conversation must be aware that a conversation is being recorded. The law was the basis for California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ investigation into the Center for Medical Progress for allegedly violating the privacy law, though Daleiden maintains that because the recordings took place in public settings where others could overhear the conversations, he was within the limits of the law.
The ACLU, a civil rights group that has sued to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortions, opposed the bill before last week’s changes. TheDC was unable to confirm whether the ACLU has changed its position in light of only journalists being charged with crimes.
One group that did change its position on AB 1671 after the last-minute changes is the California Newspapers Publishers Association. “While we find it troubling that this bill potentially criminalizes speech, we realize this bill had political momentum and our immediate concern is to protect newspapers and journalists,” CNPA Legal Counsel Nikki Moore told The Times.
Lauren Handy, a D.C.-based sidewalk counselor and pro-life activist who briefly worked for the California-based Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, told TheDC that “Upton Sinclair would be rolling his grave” at the idea of journalists being arrested for doing their work. But, said Handy, “no one is surprised. Big Brother is watching.”
Both Planned Parenthood’s political arm and the national abortion group NARAL have opposed Daleiden’s work. NARAL, however, has done its own undercover investigations of pro-life pregnancy care clinics and used those investigations to work with legislators to target the life-affirming clinics, though many of the laws created after its investigations have either been thrown out or have run into difficulties in various courts.
Planned Parenthood Action, meanwhile, has backed the California FACT Act — which was instituted due to NARAL investigations and which pro-life groups oppose. The law mandates that pro-life clinics tell patients where to get abortions, and tell patients if they don’t have doctor’s on staff.
That law, created in part thanks to NARAL’s investigations, has been backed by Planned Parenthood Action.