This ongoing series has examined public funding for Planned Parenthood at the federal, state, and local levels. In this installment, we analyze other “special” legislative treatment Planned Parenthood has received in California. (Part 1 – Federal Funding; Part 2 – State Funding.)
At the state level in just the past few years, Planned Parenthood has been extremely successful in both expanding abortion services and in enacting special treatment for abortion providers. In 2015, for example, the California Legislature passed three pro-abortion measures – more than any other state – and no pro-life measures. Moreover, California does not have any significant abortion restrictions, such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortions, often found in other states. Indeed, a representative with the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute has said, “California is moving in a different direction than the rest of the country. So far this year  we have seen 68 abortion restrictions become law, and California is the only state to make real progress to protect abortion rights.”
Expansion of Who Can Perform Abortions
The issue of who can perform abortions was taken up in 2013. AB 154 by Assembly Member Toni Atkins was introduced in the Legislature to permit a nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, or physician assistant to perform first trimester abortions. Despite objections that this bill lowered the standard of care for women by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions by aspiration, an invasive procedure in which medical instruments are inserted into the uterus, Governor Brown signed the bill into law.
Exemptions for Abortion Facilities and Abortion Providers
With Planned Parenthood’s support, legislation has also been enacted that provides special treatment to abortion facilities and abortion providers.
Notably, in 2013, Assembly Member Pan introduced AB 980. This measure, signed into law by Governor Brown, reduces building code standards for abortion clinics. Specifically, AB 980 removed requirements that abortions be performed in a surgical and antiseptic setting and allowed them to be done in substandard facilities similar to a primary care examination room. During its consideration in the Legislature, the California Catholic Conference stated that abortion is neither a trivial procedure nor a primary care service. Following an abortion, women can experience problems ranging from cramping and vaginal bleeding to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, or fever – and in rare cases, hemorrhage requiring a blood transfusion. Opponents contended that medical facilities must be prepared for patient complications, including providing appropriately constructed treatment rooms. Yet, the bill was not amended to address any of these serious health situations or to protect against dire unforeseen complications.
In 2015, Assembly Member Gomez proposed AB 1177, which eliminated the requirement for primary care facilities that provide abortions to have a “transfer agreement” with a nearby hospital as a condition of their licensing. The purpose of these transfer agreements was to ensure the safety of patients and to provide a clear understanding of responsibilities of the clinics that would call on hospitals to provide assistance. The California Catholic Conference argued that this bill put patients’ health in jeopardy because, absent a transfer agreement in place between community clinics and one or more nearby hospitals, the treating emergency physician would not have immediate access to personal, health, and medical information for patients facing medical emergencies or requiring additional medical care. In addition, for private hospitals or those owned by cities, this bill would override any decision by local hospital trustees who decide it is not in the best interest of the city to enter into such transfer agreements with certain providers. Unsurprisingly, this bill was signed into law by Governor Brown.
Pro-life Pregnancy Crisis Centers Targeted
Planned Parenthood has even targeted pro-life pregnancy crisis centers through state legislation. Indeed, while the organization touts itself as a supporter, if not the leader, of the “pro-choice” movement, Planned Parenthood has zealously advocated eliminating choice by clearing the field of anyone who offers alternative services to abortion.
For example, AB 775 of 2015 authored by Assembly Members Chiu and Burke required pregnancy resource centers to offer information on the availability of abortion services, causing them to provide information that violates their core pro-life tenets. Under this measure, signed by Governor Brown, crisis pregnancy centers that are opposed to abortion on moral or religious grounds must inform clients of California public programs that offer abortions and give them the telephone number for the county social services office where they can inquire if they qualify for those programs. Pregnancy centers that fail to comply with this law are subject to a $500 civil penalty for a first offense and a $1,000 penalty for each subsequent offense.
In response to AB 775, legislation sponsored by pro-life advocates was proposed in 2016. The measure simply would have required abortion providers to provide information on pregnancy resource centers (in order to level the playing-field). However, that legislation was killed in the first policy committee.
Pro-Life Legislation Defeated
Planned Parenthood and their advocates have been equally successful in defeating pro-life legislation. For example, in 2015, Assemblymember Shannon Grove introduced AB 2336, which would have prohibited gender-based abortions. However, the bill was defeated in the first policy committee.
Similarly, AB 2081 and AB 2134, both introduced in 2016, did not make it out of the first policy committee. AB 2081 provided that a health care service plan is not required to include abortion as a covered benefit and prohibited the Director of the Department of Managed Health Care from denying, suspending, or revoking a plan’s license if the health plan excludes coverage for abortions. AB 2134 required licensed clinics that perform abortions to post a notice advising clients that it may be possible to reverse the effects of the abortion pill.
Legislative Response to Center for Medical Progress Undercover Videos
Following the 2015 release of disturbing undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress that raised significant concerns about the services provided and methodology utilized by Planned Parenthood, the organization sponsored legislation to target such undercover activity. AB 1671 was introduced by Assembly Member Gomez in 2016 and made it a crime to intentionally disclose or distribute, in any manner, and for any purpose, the contents of a confidential communication with a health care provider after illegally obtaining it. AB 1671 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
Conversely, another measure introduced in response to the undercover videos would have eliminated state funding for any California health clinic that provides pre-born baby tissue from abortions for research. It would also have closed the loophole in the current law that has allowed Planned Parenthood to receive compensation for the “donation” of tissue for research purposes even though current law says buying or selling “cadaveric fetal tissue” is illegal. This bill was never heard in committee.
The legislative record in California clearly illustrates that, in addition to receiving generous public funding, Planned Parenthood has been extremely effective in enacting state legislation to provide it with “special treatment” and exemptions that facilitate its work in providing abortions while shutting down any efforts to protect and safeguard life.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With significant changes occurring at the federal level (with two branches of the government under Republican control), the balance of power may finally shift to the pro-life community to enact meaningful policy changes. Moving forward, there are a few key principles to keep in mind. First, any Supreme Court nominee must be willing to have a reasonable discussion about the issue of abortion and be open to the pro-life perspective. Second, the Hyde Amendment must be made permanent so that it is no longer a political “football.” Finally, we need to protect medical personnel who have moral objections to participating in certain procedures such as abortion, through efforts like the Weldon Amendment, which protects medical personnel’s “right to conscience” by prohibiting federal funds from going to states that discriminate against health care entities that do not provide or cover abortions. This is especially important in a state like California, which (with a Democratic supermajority in both houses of the State Legislature) appears unwilling to place even reasonable and common sense restrictions on abortion (such as parental notification). Moreover, in California much of the effort to restrict abortion funding and ensure high medical standards for abortion facilities will be shifting to officials at the local level, meaning that local elections will be increasingly important in the pro-life movement.