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Bishops oppose Planned Parenthood-sponsored bill to criminalize covert investigations of health providers
June 7th, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz

The California Catholic Conference and the California Newspaper Publishers Association are opposing a Planned Parenthood-sponsored bill that would criminalize publication by journalists, pro-life activists or other non-governmental entities of covertly taped conversations or actions of abortion providers and other health care operators – even if the covert video or audio taping revealed criminal activity.

The state Assembly approved AB 1671 by a vote of 52 to 26 on May 31 and it is now before the state Senate.

The California bishops’ public policy arm says the legislation is a violation of the First Amendment free speech and press protections and targets pro-life activists such as citizen journalist David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress who shot undercover video of Planned Parenthood officials allegedly discussing the sale and marketing of fetal body parts.

California law already requires that both sides agree to recording of a conversation.

AB 1671 “simultaneously hampers both public disclosure and transparency, and perhaps even interferes with or impedes law enforcement efforts,” Sandra Palacios, associate director for Governmental Relations for the California Catholic Conference, said in a statement to Catholic San Francisco.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association states in a May 25 statement on its website that the bill, although amended to only target health care providers, “still has a chilling effect. And it still violates First Amendment law.”

The legislation, sponsored by Los Angeles Democratic Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, provides for penalties of up to $10,000 per violation and one year in state prison. Planned Parenthood Federation of America describes the legislation as “key improvement that closes a current loophole in privacy laws around illegal videotaping.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights,” according to the Life Legal Defense Foundation which is defending Daleiden in a federal lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood.

Assembly Bill 1671 would make it a crime to publish confidential conversations with health care providers – even if those conversations disclose criminal activity. Moreover, the bill includes volunteers and independent contractors of abortion clinics as “health care providers.” This means anyone who posts a photo or video of an interaction with an abortion clinic employee or volunteer – including clinic escorts – could be prosecuted under the bill, according to Life Legal Defense Foundation.

Investigations by news media and others are one of the tools in a democracy to uncover wrongdoing, Palacios said.

“As has been frequently demonstrated in the past, by both news media and private organizations, undercover investigations, or those done in open and public spaces, are sometimes necessary in order to expose little known truths and to uncover important facts that our society deserves to have disseminated for public review and debate,” Palacios said.

And the legislation is clearly an effort to silence Daleiden, she said.

“Because existing law already adequately addresses this issue, one would conclude that this legislation is an unfair effort to single out and improperly target anti-abortion activist Mr. David Daleiden, who, last year, released a controversial series of undercover videos that aimed to show Planned Parenthood employees arranging the sale of aborted fetuses, exposing their engagement in what was widely believed to be illegal activity,” Palacios said.

According to the legislative analysis, Planned Parenthood states in support of the bill that it “grew out of our unfortunate experience last summer when the Center for Medical Progress published on the Internet a series of video recordings it had made surreptitiously at confidential conferences or in private conversations with medical providers. These recordings were manipulated heavily to create a narrative entirely different than the full tapes revealed. They suggested Planned Parenthood had broken the law, although a federal judge and two dozen state investigations have concluded that Planned Parenthood broke no law.”

From June 9, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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