Assembly Bill 1671 in the state of California is seeking to make it legally impossible for someone like David Daleiden to orchestrate an undercover exposé on Planned Parenthood ever again. The main provision of this bill reads as follows:
“A person who, intentionally and without the consent of all parties to a confidential communication, uses an electronic amplifying or recording device to eavesdrop upon or record the confidential communication, whether the communication is carried on among the parties in the presence of one another or by means of a telegraph, telephone, or other device, except a radio, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) per violation, or imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If the person has previously been convicted of a violation of this section or Section 631, 632.5, 632.6, 632.7, or 636, the person shall be punished by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) per violation, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison, or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
If we continue a little bit further in the bill, we find the following:
“A person who violates subdivision (a) of Section 632 [what is posted above] shall be punished pursuant to subdivision (b) if the person intentionally discloses or distributes, in any manner, in any forum, including, but not limited to, Internet Web sites and social media, or for any purpose, the contents of a confidential communication with a health care provider that is obtained by that person in violation of subdivision (a) of Section 632. For purposes of this subdivision, “social media” means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos or still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.”
The purpose of this bill could not be more obvious. Those videos made people uncomfortable, and I guess the question has to be raised about why all of this protection is necessary.
Undercover journalism has a long tradition of creating change. Whether we go back to Nellie Bly and her work on exposing the abuses in psychiatric facilities or to the work of Woodward and Bernstein breaking open the Watergate scandal, undercover journalists are able to do what the normal press is not able to do.
By virtue of being undercover, they find out what happens behind the scenes. They find out more than what the glossy brochures ever tell the public. There is no debate that remarkable changes have been made because of the work of undercover journalists.
The irony is that most people would argue that the end result of this type of change is good. It was a good thing that the abhorrent conditions of the New York psychiatric hospitals were exposed. It was a good thing that presidential scandal of Nixon was uncovered. In general, when things are wrong, we applaud those people who let us know how we need to make them right.
I fully understand that David Daleiden hit a nerve. Many people are rightfully uncomfortable with what had been uncovered about the practices of Planned Parenthood in California, and apparently that includes its allies. They are so uncomfortable about what he did that they are willing to introduce legislation to make sure that never happens again.
From a Christian worldview then, beyond the obvious ethical problems with the operations of Planned Parenthood, there are other concerns that we need to take into account.
Clearly, honesty is a value embraced by anyone who holds a Christian worldview. Whether we look in the Ten Commandments to the prohibition on bearing false witness or a lying tongue being one of the seven things that God hates in Proverbs, there is no doubt that Christianity believes that people ought to be honest.
Therefore, when we find institutions that are engaging in dishonest behavior, those are clearly things we ought to condemn. That applies to any institution, and I do understand that Christians are not always honest either. However, I am saying that when evaluating anything from a Christian worldview, we ought to support that which is honest and condemn that which is dishonest. Whistleblowing journalism is certainly consistent with this goal.
Of course, undercover journalism also raises questions about individual honesty. This is similar to the issue that I touched on a few weeks ago regarding missionaries who go into closed countries as teachers. Nellie Bly did not actually have any type of psychiatric disability; some could say she was dishonest about why she wanted to be admitted to the hospital. David Daleiden did not tell these Planned Parenthood representatives his entire motivation for these meetings was to expose them. Some could say that he was dishonest.
What do we then do as Christians who are committed to truth? Are we in some kind of contradiction here? Are we simultaneously praising yet condemning the same thing? In short, are we using an end to justify the means?
I don’t want to necessarily go too far from the subject matter to take on this ethical challenge because it would take a very long time, but I would refer you to an article in the Christian Post entitled, “Should Christians Lie to End Abortion?” This article will provide you with several other resources if you want to read more about this topic. Particularly, you should review “The Planned Parenthood Videos: Is It Wrong to ‘Lie’ to Abortionists?” which was written by John Zmirak for the Stream.
To get back to the main topic of this article, even if you support Planned Parenthood, this type of legislation should make you nervous. This type of legislation should make you worry about all of the abuses that would never be uncovered. There is a reason that you have outlets as diverse as the ACLU and LifeNews opposing this legislation. It is a First Amendment threat no matter what side of the aisle you come from.
Unless you wear the rose-colored glasses that show you the healthcare system in the state of California is a perfect system that could never do anything wrong, this bill has to make you nervous.
By the definition laid out in this bill, if Nellie Bly came to the state of California and used modern technology to expose something about the mental health system in California, she would be a criminal. The abuses would continue because nobody would see what she saw.
I know that Planned Parenthood is a controversial entity, but my above example of abuse of individuals in the mental health system is an issue I think we all can agree on from the far left to the far right. This is where the danger of a bill like this comes. You are taking away a tool that people can use to prevent a variety of abuses for the protection of one very powerful and politically savvy special interest.
If the state of California wants to create a law that puts only Planned Parenthood into a special protected class that cannot be investigated, let’s quit with the charade. At least then it would be transparent about what this bill is seeking to do.
I will repeat what I said at the beginning however. If there’s nothing to hide, then why create any type of legislation like this? Any medical establishment that does its job the right way does not need the protection provided by this bill, so you have to ask whether there is something to hide?
Situations like this are exactly why undercover journalism is needed.