The California legislature has advanced Planned Parenthood-instigated legislation that further penalizes the efforts of whistleblowers in a move resisted by both pro-life and liberal, civil-liberties advocates.
The California Senate approved an amended bill Aug. 31 that increases the punishment for a person who distributes a conversation with a health-care worker – such as a Planned Parenthood employee – that he or she has secretly recorded. Prior to the amendment, the bill penalized even those who distributed a recording on a website or via social media or another means without participating in the covertly recorded communication.
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California urged the introduction of the measure, according to the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), after the online release last year of secretly recorded videos that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of organs from aborted children. The series of undercover videos from various states featured Planned Parenthood executives discussing their sale of fetal parts, as well as their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the secret recordings of Planned Parenthood officials “exposed a human trafficking operation that posed as healthcare.”
“This proposed legislation is a transparent attempt to retaliate on behalf of Planned Parenthood, and it leaves women, children and communities more vulnerable to exploitation,” said Moore in written comments for Baptist Press. “Anyone who genuinely cares about protecting healthcare should oppose this overreach and continue to support laws that keep medical organizations accountable for what they do.”
Lila Rose, who has gone undercover to make other videos inside abortion clinics, charged Planned Parenthood with “brazenly attacking the First Amendment, aided and abetted by California legislators who are protecting a major campaign donor.”
“When the public funds half of Planned Parenthood’s operations, it has 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,” the president of the pro-life organization Live Action said in a written statement.
“This bill doesn’t protect women; instead, it puts Planned Parenthood above the law and lets it hide potentially illegal and abusive activity from public view. If this bill becomes law in California, Planned Parenthood could attempt to pass similar bans all over the country.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also opposes the legislation despite the amendment, The Sacramento Bee reported.
In addition, The Los Angeles Times refused in an editorial to join the bandwagon behind the bill after the amendment, saying the new penalties were “simply to satisfy an interest group popular among Sacramento Democrats.”
The legislation, The Times wrote, “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.”
Some news media organizations – apparently satisfied their concerns about journalists being affected were met – dropped their opposition to the bill after it was amended, according to reports.
The Senate passed the amended proposal in a 26-13, party-line vote, with Democrats in the majority. The State Assembly, which approved an earlier version of the legislation, must approve the amended measure before it goes to Gov. Jerry Brown.
A person found guilty of violating the distribution ban could face a fine of up to $2,500 and a maximum jail sentence of one year.
California and 11 other states already have laws prohibiting the recording of a private conversation without the approval of all parties, according to CJR.
Planned Parenthood and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15). Planned Parenthood affiliates – which form the leading abortion provider in the country – performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Following the release of the videos made by the California-based Center for Medical Progress, the Republican-controlled Congress approved inquiries by five different panels. One of those – the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives in the House of Representatives – has reported its investigation into the trade in fetal tissue has found a “motive for illicit profit.”
A 1993 federal law prohibits payments beyond reasonable costs for such activities as processing, storage and transportation of human fetal tissue.
Both the Senate and House passed legislation that would have eliminated about 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, but President Obama vetoed the bill in January. A House attempt to override the veto fell far short of the two-thirds majority required.
While the federal government has failed to defund Planned Parenthood, at least 12 states have cut money for the organization. Judges have blocked those actions in some cases.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)