The Corner

Law & the Courts

California Governor Signs Bill to Criminalize Whistleblowing

Today, California governor Jerry Brown announced that he had signed Assembly Bill 1671, a measure criminalizing many forms of whistleblowing in the health-care industry. The law makes it an alternate felony-misdemeanor offense to intentionally distribute, or to aid and abet the distribution of, a confidential communication with a health-care provider that was obtained unlawfully.

As I reported previously at National Review Online, the bill was drafted with the assistance of Planned Parenthood in order to intimidate potential whistleblowers such as David Daleiden and his group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which was responsible for a series of videos in summer 2015 depicting evidence of the abortion giant’s engagement in illegal fetal-tissue trafficking.

Just this week, a series of emails were accessed via a Public Records Act request, revealing that the office of California attorney general Kamala Harris collaborated with Planned Parenthood’s California affiliate to draft AB 1761. The emails show several drafts of the bill being sent from Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for California Planned Parenthood, and Jill Habig, who was serving as special counsel to Harris at the time.

Though legal experts note that attorneys general occasionally play a role in the legislative process, the emails in question are evidence of Harris’ office colluding with Planned Parenthood in order to protect the group from criminal prosecution. Additionally, Daleiden’s attorney Steve Cooley told the Washington Times that Planned Parenthood provided the attorney general’s office with probable cause to raid Daleiden’s apartment and seize his personal property while he was still in the process of consulting a lawyer.

“This is going after an individual, a single person who was operating as a citizen journalist. And all the activity and the timing of it all strongly suggests a real partnership between the attorney general and Planned Parenthood,” Cooley added.

The initial form of AB 1761 was so expansive that even the California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Democratic lawmakers in the state were opposed to it, arguing that it might discourage journalists and private individuals from revealing necessary information about the health-care industry.

“Everyone is supportive of Planned Parenthood, because it was a terrible thing that happened to them,” said state senator Loni Hancock of Berkeley, Calif., when the bill was being considered, referring to the CMP undercover-video investigation. But Hancock also noted that she considered First Amendment rights to be “core values” and that this bill might undermine those rights.

Even the liberal Los Angeles Times editorial board — which demanded in July that Congress put an end to its “witch hunt for ‘baby body part’ sellers” — opined in late August against AB 1671, saying the law has the huge potential for “unanticipated and unwelcome consequences” and it “would heap more criminal and civil penalties on making a secret recording . . . simply to satisfy an interest group popular among Sacramento Democrats.”

But it seems that Brown was not willing to heed these concerns, despite the fact that they came from both sides of the aisle. It remains to be seen how vigorously this law will be enforced, but if Planned Parenthood continues to exert undue influence on the legislative and criminal-justice processes in California, it’s likely that the measure will be wielded against anyone who releases illegally-obtained evidence of the group’s illegal practices.

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