SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The California Senate Public Safety Committee heard strong support Tuesday for a bill that would add protections for those seeking abortion and gender-affirming care.
The question is whether supporters can now agree on the language of the proposed law.
The intent of Assembly Bill 793 is to ban reverse-location searches and reverse-keyword searches in cases involving reproductive and gender-affirming care. The location searches allow law enforcement to get cellphone records about people near a certain place. Reverse-keyword searches let law enforcement get information about people who used certain search terms online.
AB 793 next heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill’s author — Democratic Assemblywoman Mia Bonta, whose district includes Oakland, Alameda, and Emeryville — said she’s committed to focusing the bill on reproductive health and gender-affirming care.
“We have to get this bill right,” Bonta told the committee, noting the year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson, which stripped federal abortion protections in place for almost 50 years.
A reverse search could track people who, for example, visit a reproductive health center. That technology, Bonta said, shouldn’t be used as a tool to hurt people who want care.
Jacob Snow, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued reverse searches are a “troubling version” of a general warrant, or an unrestricted search.
“That allows the government to track people as they go about their lives,” he said, adding moments later: “States are criminalizing people’s fundamental rights.”
Alicia Benavidez Lewis, speaking on behalf of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, said she strongly supports the bill. She argued it’s imperative it keeps moving through the legislative process, saying that California is a true sanctuary state.
“Reproductive care must be accessible,” she added.
Lewis said many people look to California as a safe place. Failing to pass AB 793 would provide out-of-state law enforcement a broad tool.
Several organizations also spoke in favor of the bill.
Kim Stone, of Stone Advocacy, praised the move that would make the bill focus on reproductive rights and gender-affirming care. However, she noted that the specific language of the bill to achieve that goal hasn’t been drafted.
Stone questioned how law enforcement would investigate the bombing of a Planned Parenthood site without the use of tools like reverse searches.
“We understand that is not what the author intends to do,” she added, referencing the intended limited scope of the bill.
Bonta said law enforcement will retain many investigative tools if her bill passes. Authorities could still gather surveillance and view body camera footage, as well as use several other methods.
State Senator Nancy Skinner, a Democrat whose district includes Oakland and Berkeley, said she knows attorneys will always try to “thread the needle” when it comes to legislation. She understands that some people, like prosecutors, want to ensure what the bill won’t do.
Skinner said what’s important about the bill is what it will accomplish.
“States are criminalizing people for essential health care that is completely legal in California,” she said, adding later: “I completely support the bill.”
State Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, a Republican from Yucaipa, said she appreciated the intent of the bill. However, she questioned advancing a bill without knowing what its final language will state and that AB 793 keeps moving forward on “faith.”
“We haven’t seen anything concrete,” Bogh said, adding that she’d oppose the bill that day but looks forward to seeing its new language.
Senate Bill 487
Another bill related to abortion had its day Tuesday before the Assembly Health Committee. Senate Bill 487 — sponsored by state Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat — would, among other acts, create protections for California health care providers who provide services in other states with different abortion laws.
Atkins, like Bonta in the earlier Senate hearing, invoked Dobbs. She said Dobbs emboldened some states to target abortion providers. SB 487 would shield those providers from repercussions in California.
For example, California providers would have protection from contract termination and discrimination for actions in other states that are not prohibited here.
“In California, abortion care is health care,” Atkins said.
Alexis Rodriguez, with the California Medical Association, said 20 states have either banned or significantly restricted abortion in the wake of Dobbs. With this legal uncertainty, she argued California must do what it can to protect providers.
The Assembly Health Committee didn’t have a quorum and a vote to advance the bill hadn't occurred by press time.
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