News Abortion

Lousiana Senate Approves “Heartbeat” Bill While Committee Creates New Criminal Penalties For Abortion Providers

Robin Marty

The senate moves even further in trying to make an abortion as inaccessible and shameful as they can.

Louisiana’s new bill requiring abortion providers to play audio of the heartbeat of an embryo or fetus prior to an abortion has passed the full Senate and is now heading to the House, according to a report from AM870.  The state already requires a woman to view an ultrasound prior to abortion, but has added this new addition to the restriction after declaring that the bill must be constitutional, since it is the same as the one used in Texas.

The full state senate Tuesday approved a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to first listen to the fetus’ heartbeat. Senator Sharon Weston Broome (D-Baton Rouge) says the bill passes constitutional muster.

“It tracks the language of a law passed in Texas last session,” Broom said on the senate floor. “That law was upheld by a unanimous panel of the 5th Circuit federal Court of Appeals.”

It is also the same bill that was ruled unconstitutional in Oklahoma, but Broome apparently didn’t mention that part.

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Now the Senate will next vote on a bill that will create new sentencing guidelines should an abortion be provided by someone who is not a licensed doctor.  SB 330 creates two new crimes: “criminal abortion” and “aggravated criminal abortion,” both punishable by jail time, rather than the civil penalties previously faced if either a medication or surgical abortion is performed by someone who is not a licensed physician or is performed outside of a licensed clinic.

“Criminal abortion” would net the provider a $5,000 to $50,000 fine and 5 years “hard time,” while “aggravated criminal abortion” is a $10,000 to $100,000 fine and 10 years.

Analysis Law and Policy

California Bill Aimed at Anti-Choice Videos Draws Free Speech Concerns

Amy Littlefield

“We wanted to make sure that we updated ... laws to kind of reflect a changing world and to make sure that we actually protect the doctors who provide these important services to women,” California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez said, adding that his legislation would also protect patient safety and access to abortion.

A California bill that would make it a crime to distribute secret recordings of health-care providers—like the ones David Daleiden used in his smear campaign against Planned Parenthood—has cleared a legislative hurdle, but faces opposition from media groups and civil liberties advocates, who say the legislation is overly broad.

It is already illegal in California to record, whether in audio or video form, a confidential communication without the consent of all parties involved. But California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, who introduced AB 1671, told Rewire that while current law specifically forbids the distribution of illegally recorded telephone calls, there is no similar protection for videos.

“We wanted to make sure that we updated those laws to kind of reflect a changing world and to make sure that we actually protect the doctors who provide these important services to women,” Gomez said, adding that his legislation would also protect patient safety and access to abortion.

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AB 1671 makes it a crime if someone who violates California’s existing law against secret recordings “intentionally discloses or distributes, in any manner, in any forum, including, but not limited to, Internet [websites] and social media, or for any purpose, the contents of a confidential communication with a health care provider that is obtained by that person.”

Violators could be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $2,500, penalties similar to those already in place for making illegal recordings. But the new measure specifies that for both recording and distribution, the fines apply to each violation; that means someone like Daleiden, who circulated his videos widely, could quickly rack up heavy fines. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

The effort to pass the bill comes as abortion providers face a rising tide of threats and secret recordings. Besides Daleiden’s efforts, covertly recorded footage of clinic staff has cropped up in the documentary HUSH and in videos released by the anti-choice group Live Action. Planned Parenthood reported a ninefold increase in harassment at its health centers in July last year, when Daleiden began releasing the deceptively edited videos he claimed showed the organization was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donation. (Multiple federal and state investigations have found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.) The National Abortion Federation recorded an “unprecedented” spike in hate speech and threats against abortion providers last year, peaking with the fatal shooting of three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

Increased Threats

“It was so alarming and so extensive that our staff that normally tracks threats and violence against providers could not keep up,” NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta told Rewire. The organization was forced to hire an outside security firm.

Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told Rewire the new legislation is needed to protect the safety of abortion providers.

“If our providers aren’t safe, then they won’t provide, and we won’t have access to reproductive health care,” Parker said in a phone interview.

Daleiden’s group, the Center for Medical Progress, is based in California, and much of his covert recording took place there. Of the four lawsuits he and his group face over the recordings, three have been filed in federal court in California. Yet so far, the only criminal charges against Daleiden have been lodged in Texas, where a grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood instead indicted Daleiden and fellow anti-choice activist Sandra Merritt for purportedly using fake California driver’s licenses as part of their covert operation. The charges were later dropped for procedural reasons.

Last summer, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced plans to review whether the Center for Medical Progress violated any laws, and in April, state investigators raided Daleiden’s apartment. Harris has not yet announced any charges. Daleiden has accused officials of seizing privileged information, a claim the attorney general’s office told Rewire it is working on resolving in court.

Harris, meanwhile is running for Senate; her campaign website describes her as “a champion for a woman’s right to choose.”

“We think there is an excellent case and the attorney general should have prosecuted,” Beth Parker of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California told Rewire. “Daleiden did more than just publish the videos, as we know, I mean he falsified driver’s licenses, he falsified credit cards, he set up a fake company. I mean, we have, as you know, a major civil litigation against him and his conspirators. I just can’t answer to why the attorney general hasn’t prosecuted.”

Parker said AB 1671 could increase incentives for law enforcement to prosecute such cases.

“What we’ve heard as we’ve been working [on] the bill is that criminal law enforcement almost never prosecutes for the violation of illegal recording,” Parker said. “It’s just too small a crime in their view.”

Assemblymember Gomez also said he hopes his bill will facilitate the prosecution of people like Daleiden, and serve as a deterrent against people who want to use illegal recordings to “undermine the fact that people have this right to have control over their bodies.”

“That’s the hope, is that it actually does change that landscape, that DAs will be able to make a better case against individuals who illegally record and distribute,” Gomez said.

Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation says the actions of law enforcement matter when it comes to the safety of abortion providers.

“There’s certainly a correlation between law enforcement’s response to criminal activity aimed at abortion providers and the escalation or de-escalation of that activity,” Saporta said, citing the federal government’s response to the murders of abortion providers in the 1990s, which included the deployment of federal marshals to guard providers and the formation of a task force by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. “We had more than a decade of decreases in extreme violence aimed at abortion providers, and that ended in 2009 with the murder of Dr. [George] Tiller.”

But media and civil liberties groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of California, have expressed concerns the bill could sweep up journalists and whistleblowers.

“The passing of this law is meant to chill speech, right, so that’s what they want to do,” Nikki Moore, legal counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which opposes the legislation, said in an interview with Rewire. In addition to potential criminal penalties, the measure would create new civil liabilities that Moore says could make journalists hesitant to publish sensitive information.  

“A news organization is going to look at it and say, ‘Are we going to get sued for this? Well, there’s a potential, so we probably shouldn’t distribute it,’” Moore said.

As an example of the kind of journalism that could be affected by the bill, Moore cited a Los Angeles Times investigation that analyzed and helped debunk Daleiden’s footage.

“Planned Parenthood’s bill would criminalize that behavior, so it’s short-sighted of them if nothing else,” Moore said.

Assemblymember Gomez disagrees about the scope of the bill. “We have tailored it narrowly to basically say it applies to the person who illegally recorded the video and also is distributing that video, so it doesn’t apply to, say, a news agency that actually ends up getting the video,” he said.

Late last week, the California Senate Appropriations Committee released AB 1671 to the state senate floor on a vote of 5 to 2, with Republicans opposing it. The latest version has been amended to remove language that implicated “a person who aids and abets” the distribution of secret recordings, wording civil liberties groups said could be used to sweep in journalists and lawyers. The latest draft also makes an exception for recordings provided solely to law enforcement for investigations.

But the ACLU of California and the California Newspaper Publishers Association said they still oppose the bill. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it is still reviewing the changes.)

“The likelihood of a news organization being charged for aiding and abetting is certainly reduced” under the new language, Moore said. But provisions already exist in the California penal code to implicate those accused of aiding and abetting criminal behavior.

“You can imagine scenarios where perhaps the newspaper published it and it’s an anonymous source, and so now they’re aiding and abetting the distribution, and they’re the only person that the prosecutor knows might have been involved,” Moore says.

In letter of opposition sent in June to Assemblymember Gomez, Kevin Baker, legislative director of the ACLU of California, raised concerns about how the measure singles out the communications of health-care providers.

“The same rationale for punishing communications of some preferred professions/industries could as easily be applied to other communications —e.g., by law enforcement, animal testing labs, gun makers, lethal injection drug producers, the petroleum industry, religious sects,” Baker wrote.

Gomez said there could be further changes to the bill as talks aimed at resolving such opposition continue. An earlier version passed the assembly easily by a vote of 52 to 26. The latest draft faces an August 31 deadline to pass the senate and a concurrence vote in the assembly before the end of the session. After that, Gomez said he hopes California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) will sign it.

“If we can strike the right balance [between the rights of privacy and free speech], my hope is that it’s hard for him not to support it,” Gomez said. 

News Abortion

Colorado U.S. Senate Candidate Hedges on Anti-Choice Stance

Jason Salzman

A Republican running for U.S. Senate in Colorado was on record during the GOP primary as supporting a "personhood" abortion ban, but now, as Republicans have done in previous Colorado elections, he’s sounding more pro-choice.

During his successful primary campaign to take on U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Darryl Glenn clearly stated his opposition to the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, garnering the support of anti-choice organization Colorado Right to Life (CRTL).

Glenn’s “pro-life” rating from the group was based on a questionnaire revealing, “with no weasel-room,” that the candidate believes “government has an obligation to protect all human life from conception forward” and “every innocent human being has an inalienable Right to Life at every age or stage of development,” according to the CRTL blog.

Glenn, an El Paso county commissioner, is now hedging on his stringent anti-choice stance and angering his former anti-choice allies in the process.

“As a person who has two adult daughters, I put myself in that situation,” Glenn said during a July 19 appearance on Devil’s Advocate, a local public affairs television program sponsored by a conservative think tank. “And I want to make sure that when we’re talking about health care, you want to make sure that women have the ability and access to health care, so that they understand all the different options that are out there. And at some point in time, maybe they might have to make that decision. But that is a personal decision that they have to make between them and … God.”

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Anti-choice activists were unhappy with Glenn’s comments.

“I’m willing to say on behalf of our organization that his comments were not nearly as strong as we would hope,” Susan Sutherland, vice president of Colorado Right to Life, told the Durango Herald, which broke the story Monday. “He was just trying to play a little bit of political maneuvering there.”

Gualberto Garcia Jones, the author of Colorado’s failed 2012 “personhood” amendment, told Rewire via email that Glenn’s comments show that the “right to life is not a priory for him.” So-called personhood laws, rejected by voters in several states, would grant full rights to a fetus, therefore outlawing abortion care.

“As a politician, he knows that a consistent 100% pro-life position will make it much more difficult for him to get elected to a statewide elected position in Colorado,” wrote Jones, vice president of the anti-choice Personhood Alliance. “We know from past personhood campaigns that support for a 100% pro-life position at the present time can get you around 35% of the vote statewide, however, with that sizable support comes 45% or more of ardent opposition. This political reality leads candidates for statewide office to do the primary-general two-step.”

“Every politician has to make a call on fundamental issues,” Jones continued. “What call they end up making is simultaneously a reflection of the politician’s priorities (getting elected v. standing for a principle) and of the electorate who on fundamental questions such as the right to life is itself not consistent.”

One pro-choice group in Colorado downplayed the debate about Glenn’s choice of words to describe his abortion stance, focusing instead on the policy ramifications.

“We are not concerned about the label that someone has or is given,” said Cristina Aguilar, executive director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), in an email statement. “We are committed to ensuring that women have access to information and support to make the decision that is best for them and that they are able to seek quality health care without medically unnecessary barriers.”

In Colorado’s last U.S. Senate election, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner dropped his support for a state “personhood” amendment after years as a strong supporter, saying he did not understand the measure. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) followed suit.

Even though Gardner refused to rescind his support for a federal “personhood” bill, Gardner defeated pro-choice Democrat Mark Udall in an election that emphasized choice issues from start to finish.

After winning the GOP U.S. Senate primary in 2010, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck withdrew his backing of a so-called personhood amendment, also saying he had not understood the anti-choice measure aimed at ending legal abortion.

Democrats hammered Buck on the “personhood” issue, like they did four years later in in the 2014 Gardner-Udall race. Buck lost to pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet (D), who faces Glenn this November.

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