Katie Short

Our readers may have noticed a flurry of media stories in July concerning an alleged new wave of violence against abortion clinics, particularly in California. These reports apparently were the product of a well-orchestrated public relations campaign to create support for SB 780, a bill which puts the draconian penalties of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) into California law.

In addition to severe criminal penalties, SB 780 stacks the deck against pro-life defendants in any civil action brought under this law by allowing courts to prohibit the use of cameras either before or after trial. As anyone familiar with the issues surrounding clinic protests knows, these situations virtually always involve “he-said-she-said” (or “she-said-she said”) accusations of misconduct between “clinic defenders” and pro-life individuals, with no visible harm to either party. The best evidence that a court can have to determine what actually happened or is happening is a videotape or photographs. Because videotapes have proved so effective in recent years in disproving abortion providers‚ inflammatory and sensational allegations, these providers have every incentive to seek court orders prohibiting the use of cameras. It is to their advantage for a court or jury to have to rely simply on the oral testimony of clinic personnel vs. pro-life picketers. Only through the use of videotaped evidence have pro-life picketers been able to rebut the de facto presumption, created by the media, the abortion lobby, and bills such as SB 780, that they are lawless, violence- prone fanatics.

Even more troubling is the provision in SB 780 which allows a court, in its discretion, to permit witnesses and others to use pseudonyms in civil proceedings. §423.5(c). Not only does this prevent a defendant from doing the most basic type of background investigation of a witness, it will adversely affect the accuracy of the witness’s testimony. It is an unfortunate truth of human nature that putting one’s name to a statement guarantees its accuracy better than if the statement is made anonymously.

The procedures in §423.5(b) and (c) might conceivably be appropriate in situations where the accused and the accuser are genuine strangers to one another, and where the accuser has no incentive to embellish the truth.

Where, however, the parties are ideological opponents in one of the most hotly debated moral, religious, and political issues of the day, a provision allowing one side to give anonymous statements under oath without fear of exposure is an invitation to perjury and fraud on the court.

Additionally, SB 780 requires the police and other law enforcement agencies to be trained to recognize and address “anti-reproductive rights crimes” in conjunction with “anti-government extremist crimes and certain hate crimes motivated by hostility to real or perceived ethnic background or sexual orientation,” because the latter crimes are “commonly committed” by the same persons who commit the former. The bill states that it is not intended to “stigmatize anyone solely because of his of her political or religious” beliefs, advocacy, or speech. Nonetheless, just to be on the safe side, the bill directs the Attorney General to “collect and analyze information relating to anti-reproductive rights crimes, including . . . persons suspected of committing these crimes or making these threats.”

Did the Legislature have anyone specific in mind? A report [ reprocrimes.htm] by Gregory deGiere of the Senate Office of Research provides some indication of how this information-gathering would proceed. The report, which was the basis for most of the recent hysterical news accounts about violence at clinics, makes the sweeping claim, inter alia, that “there are six anti-abortion organizations in California known to advocate, condone, or practice actions such as violence, vandalism, obstruction, and stalking, or that openly cooperate with national organizations that do so.” A footnote identifies these groups as Operation Rescue West; California Life Coalition; Voice for Life/Life Savers Ministries; Cherish And Respect Everyone (CARE); Operation Save America; Missionaries to the Preborn, and for good measure, The Sanctity of Human Life Network (SOHL-NET). Quite a rogue’s gallery.

The only sources cited for this defamatory allegation against these organizations are the security director for the National Abortion Federation, a video produced by something called Pink Noise Studios, and the various organizations’ own web sites. Indeed, the entire report by Mr. deGiere relies heavily on the Internet as source of information. As Mr. deGiere’s work is protected by the legislative privilege, he can repeat, report, distort, or even make up any allegations he wants to without fear of a lawsuit.

In early June, as SB780 was making its way through the state senate, LLDF sent a letter to all the senators objecting to the one-sided provisions of the bill, which are clearly intended to stigmatize pro-life activists as potential criminals, and to deny them equal protection of the law. The letter also sharply criticized both the methodology and the conclusions of Mr. deGiere’s report. Inter alia, the report relied on a survey of abortion providers about “anti-reproductive rights crimes” to come up with such howlers as the claim that there have been 111 blockades of abortion clinics in California since 1995.Had Mr. deGiere logged onto a news web site, he might have wondered why none of these 111 [imaginary] blockades ever rated even a line of news print. SB 780 passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly. Meanwhile, Mr. deGiere decided to widen the scope of his investigation into groups which “openly cooperate” with nefarious organizations such as CARE and SOHL-NET. In late July, Mr. deGiere logged onto LLDF’s web site and asked to be added to our mailing list. Apparently, Mr. deGiere did not take our criticism of his opus well, and now has LLDF in his sights for his next round of defamatory accusations and maybe even investigation by the Attorney General if SB 780 is enacted.

On behalf of everyone here in the vast right-wing conspiracy, welcome, Gregory deGiere!