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California governor signs privacy laws for abortion patients

The Independent
The Independent
 2021-09-22

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two laws on Wednesday that aim to protect the privacy of abortion providers and their patients, declaring California to be a “reproductive freedom state” in contrast to Texas and its efforts to limit the procedure.

One law makes it a crime to film people within 100 feet (30 meters) of an abortion clinic for the purpose of intimidation — a law abortion rights groups believe to be the first of its kind in the country. The other law makes it easier for people on their parents' insurance plans to keep sensitive medical information secret, including abortions.

The new laws, coupled with Newsom's comments, only sharpen the political rivalry between the nation's two most populous states. California and Texas have become bastions of their respective political ideologies, with each state carving out opposing positions on issues including health care, immigration and the environment.

That rivalry has come into sharper focus recently with a new Texas law that bans abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks and before some women know they are pregnant. The U.S. Supreme Court decided to let the law take effect for now, banning most abortions in the state.

“These are dark days. I don't think one can understate the consequential nature of the moment that we are living in,” Newsom said. “It becomes of outsized importance that California assert itself.”

It's already illegal in California to post personal information about abortion providers or their patients online. But that law hasn't been updated since the mid-2000s, before the proliferation of smart phones with high-tech cameras that can rapidly post to social media websites.

The new law authored by state Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from Orinda, makes it a misdemeanor to film someone without their consent for the purpose of intimidation. Offenders can be punished by up to one year in a county jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

The law also requires extensive training for local law enforcement agencies on how to enforce it.

“We’re upping the ante. We’re saying in California we will not accept that our reproductive health care providers and patients be subject to threats both online and in person,” Bauer-Kahan said.

The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense organization, opposed the bill. In a letter to lawmakers, the group said violence is “outside the bounds of legitimate political discourse regardless of who perpetrates it.”

“At the same time, spirited debate must not be punished or stifled by merely relabeling it as intimidating or threatening, based on the viewpoint of the speaker,” the group wrote.

Newsom also signed a law on Wednesday making it easier for people who are still on their parents' health plans to keep their medical treatment secret. State and federal law already provide privacy protections for people who are not the primary policyholder on a health insurance plan. But state Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco said patients had to request that confidentiality, and the law has not been consistently enforced.

This new law, authored by Chiu, requires insurance companies in California to automatically keep certain medical procedures confidential — including abortions. Chiu said the bill is important now because the federal Affordable Care Act lets people stay on their parents' health insurance plans until age 26.

“This violation of privacy has put them in a terrible and, in some instances, an even dangerous position,” Chiu said. “If you're receiving sensitive health services, only you should get confidential communications about it.”

The bill earned the scorn of the California Family Council, which argued the bill “seeks to remove parents from the protective role they have over their children.”

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