The recent undercover videos of top Planned Parenthood executives discussing how to position and kill unborn babies in order to preserve the marketability of their body parts offer the sort of shocking revelations that typically spur California government officials to action. One might have expected state authorities to examine the substance of the issues raised by the Center for Medical Progress, the group of citizen-journalists who made the videos. Instead, California officials have rallied to Planned Parenthood’s defense.
Democratic legislators blocked a Republican proposal to audit Planned Parenthood’s California operations, which receive more than $200 million a year in reimbursements from Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program. Thirteen legislators had wanted the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to look into whether Planned Parenthood used any of that money to harvest and sell body parts, which is a felony. Senator Connie Leyva, a Chino Democrat, said an audit would be too expensive. And besides, Planned Parenthood provides “vital health care” services. They wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, after all.
Inaction from a legislature dominated by Democrats is no surprise. Far more troubling has been the response of Attorney General Kamala Harris. Last month, Harris, who is currently the leading Democratic candidate to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate next year, received a letter from several Democratic members of Congress demanding that she—along with U.S. Justice Department officials—investigate the undercover videographers, who posed as buyers for a biotech company that performs medical research. “Press accounts regarding this incident have reported that this group created ‘fake identification’ in order to falsely impersonate corporate executives and ‘gain access’ to meetings with Planned Parenthood officials,” the letter states. It points to reports suggesting the group “filed paperwork to create a fake corporate entity.” The lawmakers also allege the undercover videos “may implicate California’s Invasion of Privacy Act, which prohibits recording individuals without their consent.” A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on August 21 ruled against that claim, but Harris appears undaunted. She immediately agreed to investigate the investigators, and brushed aside a letter from Republican state legislators asking her to look at whether Planned Parenthood violated any laws. As with the legislature’s Democrats, such questions hold no interest for the attorney general.
Harris’s tenure as attorney general already is an instructive lesson in what happens when a partisan takes over an important constitutional office and seems to put the demands of her political supporters above any pretense of even-handed justice. California attorneys general give the titles and summary of proposed statewide initiatives, and such short explanations are typically all that voters ever read about the measures before casting their votes. Harris has been so biased in crafting these titles and summaries that she was criticized harshly by some of the state’s most liberal newspapers, such as the Sacramento Bee. In particular, she gave a summary to a pension-reform measure that sounded as if its union opponents crafted it.
Harris currently is mired in a dispute with the conservative Americans for Prosperity Foundation. She has demanded the nonprofit educational group’s donor lists in exchange for allowing it to operate in California. AFP officials are understandably concerned about letting Harris and her political allies get their hands on such sensitive information. As KQED reported, “After two gay couples sued to overturn Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage in California, the attorney general (like her predecessor Jerry Brown) refused to defend it in court. That, along with Harris’ argument that Prop. 8’s proponents didn’t have legal standing to defend it either, infuriated conservative groups.” Typically, state officials are charged with defending initiatives passed by the voters, but Harris again behaved as a partisan. Regardless of where one stood on the question of Prop. 8’s constitutionality or its political wisdom, Harris’s effort to undermine any defense of the measure set a troubling precedent.
Harris’s probe into the Center for Medical Progress could spell trouble for investigative journalism in general, not just these investigative journalists. Undercover efforts to expose wrongdoing are a long-running TV news tradition. Do we really want to prosecute undercover reporters for not getting their targets’ permission to record questionable conduct and misdeeds?
A fair-minded attorney general would look at all the entangling legal questions involving Planned Parenthood and the people who exposed its officials’ questionable behavior. Instead, we have the Golden State’s top law-enforcement official behaving as if she were Planned Parenthood’s California counsel. Harris’s brand of partisan “justice” may be less disgusting than Planned Parenthood officials talking about a fully formed fetus’s “crunchy” parts, but it’s disgusting just the same.