California lawmakers’ response to the controversial series of videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood breaking the law has alienated some liberal allies of the organization, which is now negotiating changes to save its bill in the final days of the session.
Assembly Bill 1671, by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, would make it a crime to distribute recordings of a private conversation with a health care provider that were made without their consent. Penalties for the proposed new crime would be similar to those that already exist for making unauthorized recordings of a conversation in California.
The bill’s sponsor, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said that stronger deterrents are needed for groups like the Irvine-based Center for Medical Progress, which sparked a national outcry last summer by releasing undercover videos that it claimed showed Planned Parenthood officials selling aborted fetuses. The organization countered that the recordings were heavily edited.
Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said employees at its facilities experienced increased violence in the wake of the “smear campaign,” pointing to the shooting at a Colorado Springs, Colo., clinic last November.
“It’s the distribution that really causes the harm,” she said. “With the internet, false information like this can spread like wildfire.”
But critics, who also have the ear of the same Democratic lawmakers that are Planned Parenthood’s strongest legislative allies, are raising objections over the consequences of the bill.
Kevin Baker, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, said they share Planned Parenthood’s concerns about privacy, but the measure is written too broadly and could inadvertently catch people in criminal activity. Lawyers and journalists who share material from a whistleblower, he said, could be held liable for aiding and abetting.
Opponents point to Gomez’s own live Facebook video from a hospital last week, when he was treated for a broken elbow sustained in a legislative softball game, as an extreme example of the bill’s reach. Could the conversations captured in the background as Gomez discussed his injury be considered an infraction?
“You might be inadvertently recording conversations and posting them online in ways that violate the wording of this law,” Baker said. “That’s the problem of the bill. It isn’t limited.”
With time running out before Wednesday’s legislative deadline, amendments are still being floated to win over skeptical members of the Senate, where AB 1671 awaits a vote.
“Everyone is supportive of Planned Parenthood, because it was a terrible thing that happened to them,” said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. But she doesn’t want to see a solution that punishes media organizations for exposing information that would benefit the public.
It’s become a complex question of First Amendment rights, Hancock said. “These are absolutely core values.”
Parker of Planned Parenthood said they have proposed adding protections for the media into the measure – though she added that whistleblowers should be taking their material to law enforcement for investigation, not the public. She pointed out that David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind the Center for Medical Progress videos, defended his recordings as investigative journalism.
“The media does not need to break the law to do its work,” she said. “You need to weigh that against the right of the public to know.”