California Legislature Passes Bill to Jail Journalists Who Investigate Abortion Industry
The California Legislature has sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk that could send pro-life journalists to jail for investigating the abortion industry.
AB 1671 has been opposed by media and civil rights groups, as well as prominent pro-life organizations, since it was introduced earlier this year. Violators could see three years in jail or thousands of dollars in fines for releasing undercover investigations to the public or the media.
While the bill formally protects all health care groups from undercover investigators, it was written by Planned Parenthood’s California chapter, which argues that the bill is necessary to protect abortion groups from pro-life agitation.
“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, in a press statement issued after the Wednesday vote. “We worked hard to craft a bill that balances the rights of privacy and the rights of free speech.”
Groups like the ACLU and the California Newspapers Publishers Association (CNPA), however, said the bill was unacceptable in part because it punished media outlets that used information gathered by undercover investigators. On Tuesday, this part was removed by sponsor Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, which led the CNPA to announce it changed its position to neutral.
“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 Los Angeles Times.
The ACLU did not immediately respond to The Stream’s request for comment as to whether its position had changed. The LA Times’ editorial page, however, condemned the current bill.
“But make no mistake, this measure 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,” wrote the editors. They said the consequences could be far-reaching, writing that the bill “would further disincentivize potential whistleblowers from recording malfeasance when they witness it — for example, a patient who sees her doctor handing out opioid prescriptions like candy, or a farm worker who catches a veterinarian approving a sick cow for the slaughterhouse. The potential for unanticipated and unwelcome consequences is huge.”
The editorial 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.”
Pro-Life Groups Slam Changes
The group that Planned Parenthood’s bill is meant to counter is the Center for Medical Progress, which released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials engaging in possibly making illegal profit from conducting illegal abortions to harvest the parts of aborted babies.
The group’s founder, David Daleiden, slammed the new bill in a statement. “Planned Parenthood still can’t own up to the fact that their senior leadership was caught on camera talking about which places on a late-term baby to crush or not crush in order to harvest the most valuable body parts for sale — so instead they are trying to make it a crime to see the evidence. Citizen journalism is a First Amendment right, not a crime. The only crime is the one Planned Parenthood is trying to cover up: their abortion-and-baby-parts-for-profit scheme.”
Live Action founder Lila Rose, who is also a leading pro-life undercover investigator, likewise said she opposed AB 1671. “For years, investigative journalists have recorded and exposed Planned Parenthood facilities across the country covering up for sex traffickers, failing to report child sexual abusers and trafficking in baby body parts,” said Rose. “Instead of being compelled to be more transparent with the public, taxpayer-funded Planned Parenthood wants to jail journalists and whistleblowers who record and distribute footage that shows it potentially breaking the law.”
Rose said that with the public providing hundreds of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood, taxpayers have “a right to know that its money isn’t being used to break the law or commit abuses, and governments should be taking steps to make things more transparent, not less.”
Right Wing News founder John Hawkins slammed Gomez’s efforts. “Creating a bill to protect a well-connected interest group from the scrutiny of the press is not only the epitome of corruption, it’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” he told The Stream. “Everyone associated with this bill deserves to hang his head in shame.”
California-based Life Legal Defense Foundation also opposed the bill. Executive Director Alexandra Snyder said in a press release, “By passing AB 1671, California legislators have demonstrated their willingness to trample on the free speech rights of their constituents in order to protect Planned Parenthood’s financial interests.”
Abortion Industry Hypocrisy?
Planned Parenthood hasn’t been alone in opposing the work of Daleiden, Rose and other pro-life advocates’ undercover work. The pro-abortion organization NARAL slammed the Center for Medical Progress last year in a Tweet:
— NARAL (@NARAL) July 15, 2015
NARAL has conducted its own undercover investigations, however — of pro-life pregnancy care centers. In several states and cities, its volunteers and employees went into pro-life centers, later accusing the centers of deceiving pregnant women. Those investigations led to lawmakers creating statutes targeting pro-life centers across the country.
Perhaps the most controversial of those laws is the Reproductive FACT Act in California, which pro-life groups have opposed. The Act, which mandates that pro-life clinics promote abortions and acknowledge if they do not have doctors on staff, has been backed by Planned Parenthood Action.
Many of these laws have been overturned, including one in Maryland when a judge ruled that the evidence of deception wasn’t valid because the evidence was solely written testimony from volunteers and employees of the abortion industry.
Live Action and the Center for Medical Progress rely on video proof of claims of unethical and/or illegal practices in the abortion industry.
NARAL and Planned Parenthood did not respond to The Stream’s request for comment on whether they are inconsistent in backing only the abortion industry’s investigations. Live Action and Center for Medical Progress likewise did not respond to a request for comment as to whether their groups supported the abortion industry’s investigations.
Stream contributor and LifeSiteNews U.S. Bureau Chief Ben Johnson said there is no comparison between what pro-life advocates do, and the practices of undercover abortion investigators.
“While the abortion lobby tries to gin up outrage over pro-life women’s centers, their results have been underwhelming. NARAL once promoted a video about CPC ‘lies’ that contained zero falsehoods,” said Johnson. “Pro-life researchers such as Lila Rose and David Daleiden have uncovered evidence of racial bias, an indifference to sexual trafficking and statutory rape, infanticide and the sale of human body parts,” he continued.
Johnson said that “the pro-life movement has never sought to harness the power of the State to try to silence the other side, because truth fears no foe.”
Asked whether using undercover pro-life investigations to create pro-life laws was using the power of the state, Johnson replied, “There isn’t a moral equivalence, because this law strikes at the ability to know what’s happening inside a legally operating facility.”