California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Wednesday that will help expand access to reproductive health care while doubling down on protecting the privacy of patients who seek abortions or gender-affirming services.
The first of the bills, AB 1356, makes it a crime to post personal information or images of a reproductive health care patient online, punishable with up to a year in county jail and/or a $10,000 fine. If the offense results in bodily injury, the fine will increase up to $50,000.
Committing such actions is already a crime in the state, but the law has not been updated in more than a decade. As noted by assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, who created the bill, anti-reproductive rights protesters often visit facilities to "harass all who enter."
"They are well organized, well-funded and undeterred by low fines," Bauer-Kahan said in a statement, adding that protesters "aggressively film those who enter facilities and post their information on extremist websites."
"True access to reproductive healthcare requires safety and privacy," she said. "When protesters harass patients and providers, they don't just state their opinions — they fundamentally threaten a patient's right to reproductive healthcare."
The bill also makes it a crime for people to intimidate reproductive health care patients and providers within 100 feet of a reproductive health care facility. Under the law, individuals cannot go within 100 feet of a facility to record, in any way, a patient or health care provider, or to disclose or distribute material that would intimidate them to leave the clinic.
The second bill, AB 1184, heightens privacy laws for people receiving "sensitive" health care services, including abortions, gender-affirming care, mental health treatment and services related to substance use and intimate partner violence.
The legislation requires that health services plans or insurers accommodate requests for certain information to remain confidential when receiving these services, or if disclosure of information would endanger the patient. Patients seeking sensitive services will no longer be required to get prior approval from the insurance policyholder or primary subscriber, and information about the procedure will not be allowed to be shared with anyone other than patient without approval.
Newsom's passing of the legislation comes on the heels ofenacting the most restrictive abortion measures in the country. Under Texas' law, it is now illegal for people in the state to get an abortion as early as six weeks, and those who either help people get or perform abortion services can be sued by other civilians for up to $10,000.
"While Texas and other GOP states continue to strip women of their fundamental reproductive rights, CA is working to defend and expand access to reproductive healthcare," Newsom tweeted. "We are a reproductive freedom state -- and proud of it."
As part of the legislation, the governor also announced that the state will be participating in the newly-created California Future of Abortion Council advisory group, which consists of sexual and reproductive health care allies and partners, including Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, Black Women for Wellness Action Project and National Health Law Program.
The group's aim is to find existing and future challenges related to reproductive and sexual health care and recommend solutions the state can take to combat them.
"Given the recent attacks on reproductive rights and access across the country, California must strategize policy, legal, and advocacy solutions for expanding access to care to ensure California remains a reproductive freedom state and achieves health equity," Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President Jodi Hicks said in a statement. "The country is facing a stark reality where millions of people will no longer be able to receive essential health care and California's leadership and example are once again needed more than ever."
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