An effort to ‘silence dissenters’: California targets pro-life sidewalk advocates

40 days for life

Yesterday, Pro-Life San Francisco sounded the alarm on California’s AB1356, a bill that would amend existing state law regarding “reproductive health services.” The bill makes clear that the term “reproductive health care services” refers to “health care services relating to the termination of a pregnancy in a reproductive health care services facility,” including a hospital.

In a post on Facebook, Pro-life SF stated that Planned Parenthood is behind the bill, which the group claims “will lead to the arrest of peaceful, law abiding sidewalk advocates outside abortion facilities.”

Pro-life advocates are calling for citizens to contact their legislators and make their opposition to the bill known as soon as possible, as it makes its way through the state legislature.

The text of the bill notes the existing provisions and the changes that are being sought, but notably, the law significantly increases the penalties for violations. It allows a misdemeanor charge to be increased to a felony, increases the current fine of $2,500 to $10,000, and increases imprisonment from six months to one year. If a violation leads to “bodily injury,” the new law will increase the current fine of $5,000 to $50,000.

Of note, the bill also calls for law enforcement to report “anti-reproductive-rights crime-related calls for assistance” as well as arrests and charges filed against those who violate the law, but there is no California state requirement to report abortions or abortion injuries.

The bill notes that existing law “prohibits a person, business, or association from knowingly publicly posting or displaying on the internet the home address or home telephone number of a provider, employee, volunteer, or patient of a reproductive health care services facility” or those living in the same location as those mentioned, “with the intent to incite a 3rd person to cause imminent great bodily harm to the person identified in the posting or display… or to threaten the person identified in the posting or display… in a manner that places the person… in objectively reasonable fear for the person’s… personal safety. Existing law establishes a cause of action for damages and declaratory relief for violations.”

The new bill “would make it a crime to post personal information or an image of a provider, employee, volunteer, or patient and would increase the penalty to either imprisonment in a county jail for either one year, a fine of up to $10,000, or both that fine and imprisonment, and would make a violation punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony if bodily injury occurs. By increasing the penalty for a crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.” (emphasis added)

According to Terrisa Bukovinac of Pro-Life San Francisco, this law “would make it almost impossible” for pro-life sidewalk advocates “to protect ourselves against harassment” because advocates frequently utilize video cameras to document the harassment and threats against themselves during their pro-life outreach. “What we’re seeing on the broader level is the abortion industry is doing everything they can in California to increase their bottom line [and] to silence dissenters in every corner of society,” Bukovinac told Live Action News.

“They don’t want anyone in California being able to encounter pro-life thought because it threatens their very existence,” Bukovinac added. “Sidewalk advocates across the country have dealt with these types of things in the past… this is certainly a response to increased activism within California on this issue.”

In 2016, said Bukovinac, there was a much smaller sidewalk advocate presence in the state, but activists including Bukovinac have worked to “increase[] participation in sidewalk advocacy” even though they have “faced arrest and harassment on the street.” That effort has paid off — and the evidence for it is the fact that “the abortion industry wants to ensure that those voices are silenced.”

Her fear, she said, is that if AB1356 passes, “the California community will no longer be able to see a visible representation of the people in their community that oppose abortion… This will lead to extreme violations of our First Amendment rights and simply create a coercive environment where advocates are pressured to stay home because they’re afraid of having violence committed against them and they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves with video evidence.”

A decrease in pro-life outreach on the sidewalks will result in more women choosing abortion, which Bukovinac believes is the motivation behind the bill.

READ: Napa City Council votes in favor of extreme free speech restrictions outside Planned Parenthood

According to the bill’s text:

This bill would also make it a crime, within 100 feet of the entrance to or within a reproductive health services facility, to intentionally videotape, film, photograph, or record by electronic means a reproductive health services patient, provider, or assistant, as defined, because of that status with the specific intent to intimidate a person from becoming or remaining a reproductive health services patient, provider, or assistant.

The bill would also make it a crime to intentionally disclose or distribute material obtained in violation of that provision with the specific intent to intimidate a person from becoming or remaining a reproductive health services patient, provider, or assistant. By creating new crimes, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

“Simply standing outside the clinic, every single time I do it, someone comes out and accuses me of harassing women,” Bukovinac told Live Action News. “It’s a constant accusation that is hurled at pro-lifers and without the ability to film — and… it’s at the discretion of those involved to determine what our intent is? It’s absolutely discriminatory in its design. It is designed to silence pro-life voices; it’s not designed to protect anyone except the interests of the abortion industry.”

“Nonviolent direct action is our right,” she added. “It is our right to stand up for the things that we believe in and it is absolutely critical to our cause that we rally around centers that kill children. And a law that prevents us from doing that is suppression, and it should be fought. We have to fight it nonviolently as a movement. If it happens in California, it’s going to happen in other places.”

To contact your Senators and Representatives in California to insist upon the protection of the First Amendment rights of pro-life advocates, and to oppose AB1356, click here.

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