The Los Angeles Times is a very liberal newspaper. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the paper’s editorial board chose to criticize the state’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, for charging members of the Center for Medical Progress with multiple felonies.
Naturally, the paper dismisses all of the videos themselves as insignificant (more on that in a moment) but the Times does recognize a precedent for this kind of undercover investigation and argues the law shouldn’t be interpreted so broadly in these cases:
It’s disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be…
The videos — recorded in California and elsewhere — were published online nearly two years ago by Daleiden’s organization, the Center for Medical Progress. They caused an uproar, energizing anti-abortion activists and prompting threats against abortion providers. Officials of Planned Parenthood, whose staff members were seen on some of the recordings, denied any wrongdoing and were outraged that the tapes appeared edited to make it sound as if they were selling fetal tissue…
In similar cases, we have denounced moves to criminalize such behavior, especially in the case of animal welfare investigators who have gone undercover at slaughterhouses and other agricultural businesses to secretly record horrific and illegal abuses of animals. That work, too, is aimed at revealing wrongdoing and changing public policy.
That’s why the state law forbidding recording of conversations should be applied narrowly, and to clear and egregious violations of privacy where the motive is personal gain.
Clearly, the purpose here was not personal gain. Daleiden and his group have been charged with felonies once already in Texas. Those charges were dropped but the group still had to spend time and money defending themselves.
The LA Times claims “The public policy in the U.S. on the use of this tissue is sound. Fetal tissue may not be sold or bought.” However, the LA Times fails to mention a recent case brought in nearby Orange County against a pair of companies allegedly involved in selling fetal tissue. From an October 2016 story in the OC Register:
The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court late Tuesday, accuses DaVinci Biosciences and its sister company, DV Biologics, of advertising and selling hundreds of units of fetal tissue and stem cells to research facilities around the world, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, in a Wednesday news conference, said the companies treated human parts as commodities rather than following the law.
“This case is not about whether it should be lawful to sell fetal parts, or whether fetal-tissue research is ethical or legal,” he said. “This lawsuit is aimed at taking the profit out of selling body parts.”
DaVinci Biosciences and DV Biologics were both highlighted in a Center for Medical Progress video published in March 2016 (see below). So the LA Times is wrong to suggest the CMP videos were unnecessary. In fact, the jury is still out on that. But the Times is correct that California’s AG is overreaching by trying to criminalize undercover investigations on matters of public policy. The Times may not like to admit it, but the broader issue of abortion policy is very much in flux around the country.