A Planned Parenthood-backed bill designed to criminalize the creation and distribution of secret recordings – such as those released by the Center for Medical Progress last year – cleared the California Senate on Wednesday by a 26-13 party-line vote.
In California, it is already illegal to record a private conversation without the consent of those involved. The bill would make it an additional crime for the person who creates a secret recording involving a “health care provider” to distribute the recording.
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California has argued that harsher restrictions are needed in order to deter groups such as the Center for Medical Progress, which last year released a series of secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials allegedly engaging in unethical and potentially illegal behavior involving the sale of fetal body parts.
The original version of the legislation could have made it a crime to distribute the secret recordings regardless of who created them, drawing the opposition of media groups, afraid the bill would criminalize journalists sharing information from whistleblowers. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, a long-time ally of Planned Parenthood, strongly opposed the bill.
“The same rationale for punishing communications of some preferred professions or industries could as easily be applied to other communications [such as] law enforcement, animal testing labs, gun makers, lethal injection drug producers, the petroleum industry and religious sects,” wrote ACLU legislative director Kevin Baker.
Before the bill cleared the Senate, amendments were added exempting those who distribute secret recordings, but were not involved in their creation. This alleviated the concerns of some media groups, but several organizations including the ACLU remain opposed to the bill, reports the Sacramento Bee.
State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sees the bill as selective restriction against investigative journalism. “When ‘60 Minutes’ uses a hidden camera and discovers a unique story, it’s called outstanding journalism,” he said. “But when a private citizen does it and unmasks a very, very unpleasant truth, it’s a call for legislation.”
“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. 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.
“The California Newspaper Publishers Association — not an organization that’s necessarily sympathetic to the pro-life cause – said even the newly amended version of the bill still ‘potentially criminalizes speech.’ Planned Parenthood is brazenly attacking the First Amendment, aided and abetted by California legislators who are protecting a major campaign donor.
Live Action President Lila Rose responded to the measure:
“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. Americans understand that abortion is a grave act, and with Planned Parenthood committing over 320,000 abortions each year, investigative journalists and whistleblowers have been the ones exposing the many abuses that often accompany it.
“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.”
If the bill survives a concurrence vote in the Assembly (where it already passed), it will head to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. According to the Sacramento Bee, Brown often vetoes legislation that creates a new crime.