With nothing left to accomplish in the fight for unrestricted, tax-payer funded abortion in California, pro-abortion state legislators this spring embarked on a different pet project: demonizing pro-life activists. On February 24, State Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-6) introduced SB 1945, entitled the Anti-Abortion Crime Law Enforcement Act. The bill’s language of intent begins, “The Legislature finds and declares that antiabortion crime and hate crime differ in concept but often converge in practice, and that law enforcement should address them in concert.”
To accomplish that goal, SB 1945 would require the state Attorney General to direct local law enforcement to report incidents of “antiabortion crime” as crimes motivated by the victim’s membership in a protected class.
Moreover, guidelines would be developed to aid in training local law enforcement to address “antiabortion crime.” The commission charged with developing the training guidelines would consult with the “appropriate” groups and individuals having an interest and expertise in the field of reproductive health.
SB 1945 also would amend Civil Code section 3427, a statute passed in 1993 as California’s version of the federal FACE law, prohibiting blockades of “health care facilities.” One subsection, §3427.3, contains provisions protecting the privacy of patients, licensed health practitioners, employees, clients, or customers of health care facilities which sue for physical interference with the facility under this section. Under this section, courts may order that such individuals be allowed to testify pseudonymously in any such action. SB 1945 adds “volunteers” (meaning abortion clinic escorts) to this protected class of witnesses.
On April 6, I contacted staff at Senator Ortiz’s Capitol Office about the violation of the equal protection clause of both the U.S. and California Constitutions contained in the bill text because it does not treat abortion advocates and foes equally under the law. I was advised that unless data could be provided establishing that crimes against abortion foes occur, the bill would not be amended to add them as a protected class.
On April 7, I faxed 26 pages documenting violent crime against abortion foes, as requested. The documentation evidenced 5 to 7 incidents of violence against pro-lifers, with a letter stating more police reports and videotapes of such violence could be produced, if necessary. I faxed the same documentation to the Senate Public Safety Committee, which is the committee where the bill would be heard first and its fate decided by committee members’ vote. On April 11, the bill was heard by the Public Safety Committee. The incidents of violence against abortion foes were not mentioned. The bill was insignificantly amended and rereferred to the same committee.
On April 13, I received a report published by the Senate Office of Research. The report documented crimes only against abortion advocates, including newspaper accounts of such violence. The newspaper reports of violence against four antiabortion healthcare facilities, which were faxed to Senator Ortiz and the Senate Public Safety Committee, were not part of the report. After receiving the report, I made an appointment to review the committee file to see what other documentation exists to support the bill.
On April 19, as a resident of Senator Ortiz’s district, I sent a letter expressing concerns about the equal protection violations in SB 1945 and the fact that the senator was not representing her constituency in an even-handed manner. On April 25, staff from the Senator’s office left me a voice mail message stating that I would be apprised of any amendments to the bill. On April 25, the newly-amended bill passed out of committee and to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Again the amendments were insignificant. However, staff from the Senator’s office did not mention any amendments during our earlier phone conversation, as had been promised.
On April 28, after receiving no return call from the committee consultant, I went to the committee office and reviewed the file. Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood is the bill sponsor. Supporting the bill are (try to contain your surprise!) National Abortion Rights Action League, California Abortion Rights Action League, and the California Medical Association. Included in the bill file is a report from the Feminist Majority Foundation, “The 1999 National Clinic Violence Survey Report.” Not one statistic or incident was documented with a police report or any other data. (After doing a little research, I learned that when contacted about a similar survey conducted in 1992, FMF refused to respond to requests for documentation. The research also uncovered the fact that one Operation Rescue incident with 100 participants was reported as 102 incidents of violence—1 clinic, 1 incident and 100 abortion foes. [Do the math.])
On May 3, I called staff at the Senator’s office about meeting with the bill sponsor, Planned Parenthood, to try to work out amendments amenable to abortion opponents and advocates alike. The meeting was refused.
Additionally, I was told that too much time had already been spent discussing my position on the bill.When I informed the staffperson that a prolifer was shot in the face with a pellet gun in front of a Planned Parenthood facility in the Senator’s District, the response was that this was not the facility in which Planned Parenthood’s public affairs liaison for the bill was employed.Not only did staffperson’s response indicate Senator Ortiz was already aware of the incident, not the least bit of concern was expressed by staff for the condition of the victim. Last, staff could not guarantee without more documentation that the bill would be amended to include abortion opponents as a protected class. Staff promised a phone call with an update as to the status of the bill amendments after meeting with the sponsor. Shortly after the call, I faxed additional documentation to Senator Ortiz evidencing acts of violence against abortion foes.
On May 9, the bill was amended to remove the intent language quoted above. Still, only crime against abortion advocates would be documented; only training as it related to crime against abortion advocates would occur should SB 1945 be enacted.
On May 15, lobbyist Art Croney from the Committee on Moral Concerns took copies of the information I faxed to Senator Ortiz over one month before and presented it to the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Several of the committee members shared concerns that SB 1945 did not include abortion foes as members of a protected class. Senator Ortiz left the hearing having been admonished to amend the bill. During a conversation on May 24, I learned that staff at Senator Ortiz’s office informed Mr. Croney that “antiabortion crime” may be changed simply to “crime.” While encouraging, it is highly questionable whether clinic staff will report criminal activity against abortion foes when it has been the experience of Life Legal that clinic staff often condone and even participate in such activity. The result would be skewed statistics.
As of May 25, the bill still sits in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It remains to be seen if the bill will be amended and/or proceed to the general Senate for a vote. As of June 26, 2000, SB 1945 remains in Senate Appropriations, missing the June 5, 2000, deadline to pass out of the House of Origin.Keep in mind, however, that the Legislature does continually change the rules, or use rule waivers to advance legislation.
Though a quick response from concerned groups and constituents was apparently successful in stalling SB 1945 for the time being, it is clear that the mindset behind it is alive and well. For example, when a representative from the Respect Life Committee at the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento questioned Senator Ortiz about SB 1945, the Senator’s response was to ask the representative if she planned to bomb an abortion clinic.
Also, Planned Parenthood’s interest in the bill at least appears to be more than simply academic, and the bill’s timing seems more than coincidental. In Planned Parenthood Golden Gate v. Foti, a cross-complaint brought by Planned Parenthood in response to a lawsuit from prolife activist Ross Foti, Planned Parenthood sought an order from the trial court allowing its staff and escort witnesses to be identified only by pseudonym. Although Planned Parenthood is not suing under C.C. §3427, it argues that the provisions of that section should apply to any action which pits abortion clinics against prolife activists. According to Planned Parenthood’s logic, the very fact that it accuses pro-lifers of wrongdoing establishes the need to “protect” its staff and volunteers from these presumed violent protesters. Attorneys for the pro-life protesters opposed Planned Parenthood’s motion, arguing that not only was such an order unnecessary and burdensome, but it would be very prejudicial to the pro-lifers at trial, by implying that a court had already ruled that they were dangerous individuals.
In the same action, Planned Parenthood has launched a personal attack on LLDF Legal Director Katie Short, who represents Foti, and attorney Terry Thompson, who represents two other protesters, claiming that because these attorneys are “known anti-abortion protesters,” they cannot be trusted to abide by an “Attorney- Eyes Only” protective order covering staff and volunteers’ home addresses.
When the trial court failed to adopt Planned Parenthood’s extreme position and instead ordered it to identify witnesses, including staff and volunteers, and to provide addresses to the attorneys, Planned Parenthood filed a writ in the court of appeal. The court of appeal has set a hearing on the matter for July 13.
To look at current proposed legislation, or to check the status of SB 1945, visit the Legislative web site at www.leginfo.ca.gov. If you have police reports, videotapes, or other evidence of crime against pro-life individuals, please mail it to LLDF, P.O. Box 2105, Napa CA 94558. Should this bill proceed, we need to be prepared to validate the concerns expressed above.