- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In the wake of an undercover investigation into Planned Parenthood’s fetal parts sales, the California legislature is considering a bill that would criminalize publishing secretly recorded video footage of “health care providers.”

AB 1671, which has been backed by Planned Parenthood, would criminalize the publication of confidential interactions with state-licensed medical personnel, including abortionists and clinic staff, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine per violation.

Introduced by Los Angeles Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, the bill has received criticism from both pro-life activists and those who worry about its potential to chill free speech and investigative journalism.

Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, said the Planned Parenthood-backed legislation is an effort to decrease transparency at the nation’s largest abortion provider.

“For years, undercover journalists have documented Planned Parenthood employees covering up for sex traffickers, failing to report child sexual abusers, and trafficking in baby body parts,” Ms. Rose said in a statement. “Rather than be more transparent with the public, Planned Parenthood wants to make it a crime for the media to publish evidence that it might be doing something illegal.”

Ms. Rose pointed out that since Planned Parenthood receives public funding in order to keep its doors open, the public has a right to know what goes on behind those doors.

“A watchdog media is a cornerstone of a democratic society, and when the public funds half of the abortion giant’s operations, it has a right to know that its money isn’t being used to break the law or commit abuses,” she said.

On its website, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California Action Funds describes AB 1671 as a “key improvement that closes a current loophole in privacy laws around illegal videotaping.” The group could not be reached for comment.

Several state publishing and broadcasting groups have come out against the bill, which initially banned any secret recordings without the consent of all parties before being trimmed to apply only to content involving “health care providers.”

California Newspaper Publishers Association legal counsel Nikki Moore wrote to Mr. Gomez, warning about the bill’s stifling implications for investigative journalism.

“AB 1671 seeks to criminalize the exchange of information,” Ms. Moore wrote. “It exposes the media and individuals alike to criminal penalties for simply pushing the send button on an email. And it ties the hands of California journalists whose job is to report on issues of public concern.”

CNPA testified against AB 1671 during deliberations, and in a press release issued May 27, described the bill as a “content based regulation and presumptively unconstitutional.”

Writing in the San Jose Mercury News recently, investigative reporter Thomas Peele lauded Planned Parenthood’s efforts to provide “vital medical services,” but said the bill’s speech-stifling potential “should have First Amendment advocates, journalists and good-government types gravely concerned.”

He compared the press restrictions to those floated by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“You know who has alluded to such measures of press control and criminalization of journalism? Donald Trump,” Mr. Peele wrote. “Whether he could achieve such things, such as the threat to ‘open up’ libel laws so he could sue reporters, remains unknown. But here, Gomez’s bill is reality, not ignorant demagoguery.”

Mr. Gomez in 2015 received the Champion of Choice Award from Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, a branch that came under scrutiny after the Center for Medical Progress released its undercover video series.

Through the investigation, PPLA was revealed to have partnered with fetal tissue procurement firm Novogenix Laboratories, LLC, whose executive director, Dr. Ben Van Handel, can be heard in one of the videos admitting that “the [baby’s] heart actually is still beating” after some abortions.

Mr. Gomez has also received $13,500 in campaign contributions from Planned Parenthood during the last two elections, reported Live Action News.

AB 1671 cleared the appropriations committee on May 25 by a party-line vote of 14 to 6 and will now head to the assembly floor.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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