We have often discussed how free speech is rapidly being curtailed on college campuses in the name of fighting intolerance and ill-defined “microaggressions.” California lawmakers are showing the same dismissive attitude in legislation that is a response to the recent scandal over secretly taped statements by Planned Parenthood officials. The videotapes by activists caused a national backlash against Planned Parenthood so liberal politicians are moving to stamp out future “gotcha” films by sharply curtailing free speech and press freedoms. Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, and other Democrats dismissed vehement objections from the ACLU, civil liberties, and press freedom groups. I understand the objections to the videotape of Planned Parenthood and the alleged unfairness in editing. However, the solution is not to further criminalize this area of free speech and press freedoms.
The bill that is now going to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk would create new penalties for distributing secret recordings of discussions with health providers. This is all because Planned Parenthood officials were caught discussing the purchase of aborted fetal body parts. There was no private patient information disclosed. It was simply politically embarrassing for Planned Parenthood and their supporters. The result is that the first amendment has to be curtailed to guarantee greater protections for Planned Parenthood and other organizations.
What is amazing is that recording and distributing a “confidential communication” without consent already is a crime under California law. However, the new bill add a specific provision for recording a conversation with a health care provider — a bill supported by Planned Parenthood which says that the taping of the statements of its officials has caused it ongoing criticism and threats. Yet, there was nothing that would be seen as particularly private in Planned Parenthood officials discussing the availability of body parts for sale or research. It would give Planned Parenthood and other organizations in its field a special protection. Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California blames the Internet and “the tremendous wildfire nature” of news today for the need to curtail such efforts. That is obviously popular with supporters of Planned Parenthood and clearly the majority of legislators in California could not care less about the first amendment and equal protection implications. The bill was passed almost entirely with Democratic support.
The Democrats pushed through the bill despite the opposition of such iconic and respected groups as the American Civil Liberties Union. Journalistic groups have also risen up in opposition, saying that the bill would curtail press freedom. None of that matters. Planned Parenthood was embarrassed so the first amendment must pay.
The bill is the latest example of how the first amendment freedoms are increasingly under attack from the left, which historically fought for free speech and press freedoms as the virtual touchstone of their movement. Now, rather than the solution for intolerance and corruption, it is viewed as the danger itself by many on the left.
The current bill was only modified at the very last minute to include an exception for media, but it is still an unneeded and potentially dangerous measure. What defines a media story in today’s world of blogs and websites is ambiguous and the purpose of the law is clearly meant to chill or intimidate public interest groups in seeking expose what they view of corrupt or immoral or illegal practices. With the existing law, there is no need for this measure, which appears entirely based on a type of fit of distemper over the political embarrassment caused by the Planned Parenthood debacle.
Liberals seen to have developed a taste of speech regulation and criminalization on our campuses and in our state houses. That is not to say that there are not many Republicans with the same disdain for civil liberties and politicians as a whole have never been reliable allies to constitutional rights. However, the shift of the left away from first amendment protections is being so chilling as to be perfectly glacial in recent years.