Monday, February 23, 2009
Brown Opines He Can Compel Reports on Abortion Clinic Crimes
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Attorney General Jerry Brown has determined that he has the authority to compel local law enforcement agencies to prepare and submit reports on crimes against abortion clinics.
In an opinion made public Thursday, Brown concluded that existing statutory provisions authorize him to require local law enforcement agencies submit incident-by-incident reports as well as monthly summary reports of all anti-reproductive-rights crimes reported to them.
During the 2001 Legislative Session, then-Senator Deborah Ortiz, D-Oak Park, authored SB 780, which was developed as a response to criminal activity affecting the rights of individuals seeking reproductive health care.
The bill enacted the California Freedom of Access to Clinics and Church Entrances Act—which created state civil and criminal penalties for interfering with an individual’s access to reproductive health care facilities or religious services—and the Reproductive Rights Law Enforcement Act—which required the Attorney General to collect, analyze, and report on certain data pertaining to anti-reproductive-rights crime.
In September 2006 the Legislature passed SB 603, which directed the California Commission on the Status of Women—a nonpartisan state agency whose stated mission is to promote equality and justice for women and girls in California—to examine the effectiveness of the implementation of the prior bill.
The commission found that reproductive health care providers and advocates were being frustrated in their attempts to get assistance from local law enforcement agencies, and that local law enforcement agencies were under-reporting the number of anti-reproductive-rights crimes.
A final report issued by the commission noted that the vast majority of local law enforcement divisions were reporting little to no anti-reproductive-rights crimes in their jurisdictions despite many calls for assistance from reproductive health care facilities.
Explaining that the under-reporting of crimes could make it more difficult to implement measures to reduce them, the commission asked Brown to issue a legal opinion as to whether he could compel monthly summary reports from law enforcement and individual incident reports for every crime reported.
Brown noted the mandatory language of the Reproductive Rights Law Enforcement Act, which mandates that the Attorney General “shall…[c]ollect and analyze information relating to anti-reproductive-rights crimes…,” and “[d]irect local law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Justice…any information that may be required relative to anti-reproductive-rights crimes.”
Citing Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language’s definition of “direct,” Brown reasoned “given how and where the term is used in the statute…its most applicable is definition is ‘to give authoritative instructions to; command; order or ordain.’”
Based on the plain reading of the statutory language, Brown determined he had the authority to compel local law enforcement to report anti-reproductive-rights crimes.
Beth McGovern, legislative director for the commission, said that her organization was “very pleased” with Brown’s decision, opining that his answer “will help to enforce the important anti-reproduction rights laws that in the past have not been enforced as well as they should be.”
She explained that one reason for under-reporting was that police officers were not charging certain crimes such as arson or vandalism at clinics as an anti-reproductive rights crime, and so the commission decided to seek Brown’s opinion “to help law enforcement do this the right way rather than go back and complain about it later.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company