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California passes law to protect abortion-seekers from surveillance

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to make his state a safe haven for abortion-seekers after this year's SCOTUS decision. Assembly Bill 1242 is a big step.


California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law last week that includes the most sweeping data protections in the nation for people whose online information could be used to prosecute them for participating in an abortion. 

Assembly Bill 1242 is a direct response to GOP-backed laws in other states that severely restrict people’s rights to undergo and perform the procedure — measures that have taken hold since the conservative-tilted Supreme Court overturned federal abortion rights earlier this year. 

As I’ve written previously, enforcing these oppressive restrictions will likely require law enforcement agencies to engage in historic levels of snooping, potentially looking into people’s online search history, their private social media messages, and even their geotagged location history to determine whether they sought or received an abortion deemed illegal. In some states, like Arizona, where a judge recently allowed a draconian anti-abortion law to go into effect, that could mean seeking an abortion for almost any reason may be criminal.  

But California Attorney General Rob Bonta explained in a press release last week how AB 1242 protects against digital snooping for that purpose.

The bill prohibits the arrest of anyone for seeking, aiding or performing a legal abortion, and it bans California law enforcement from assisting another state’s investigation into a legal abortion performed in California, according to Bonta's office. That’s an important inclusion, given some Republicans in states with strict abortion measures have proposed banning people from going elsewhere to undergo the procedure

AB 1242 also requires out-of-state law enforcement agencies seeking records from California-based corporations using the state’s “warrant streamlining law” to confirm the records won’t be used to prosecute an abortion that’s legal in California. That’s noteworthy, given many popular tech companies likely to be subpoenaed by probing agencies, including Google, Twitter and Facebook, are based in California. 

The bill aligns with Newsom’s publicly stated goal of making California a safe haven for people seeking abortion care.

“California has banded together with Oregon and Washington to stand up for women, and to protect access to reproductive health care,” Newsom said in a statement in June, following the demise of Roe v. Wade. “We will not sit on the sidelines and allow patients who seek reproductive care in our states or the doctors that provide that care to be intimidated with criminal prosecution. We refuse to go back and we will fight like hell to protect our rights and our values.”

The fight to protect abortion rights continues. In California, that means protecting abortion-seekers from Big Brother’s watchful eye.