A Prospective CA Law Makes It a Crime to Dox Reproductive Health Doctors and Patients
It could provide a model for reigning in dangerous online speech, but challenges remain
A prospective new law working its way through California’s legislature would make doxing reproductive health doctors and patients (including those who perform or seek abortions at health centers including Planned Parenthood) into a crime. The prospective law, which is part of AB1356, was recently passed in the California Senate Judiciary Committee on the evening of July 13, 2021.
Doxing refers to harassment of a person through the public sharing of their personal information, often online. It is a tactic sometimes used to intimidate providers who offer abortions in California, according to lawmakers and advocates. The National Abortion Federation, an advocacy group, said in their 2019 Violence and Disruption Statistics report that “abortion providers continued to report an increase in targeted violence” in 2019. Instances of hate speech and internet harassment increased from around 1,300 reported incidents in 2018 to over 3,100 in 2019.
A Massachusetts professor who published articles supporting abortion rights, the Federation said, received 28 harassing emails about their article, including death threats. “You will have your face ripped off and eaten by me, personally. I will enjoy raping your body after you’re dead”, their harasser wrote. When a provider is doxed and their personal information is shared online, extremists sometimes make good on these kinds of threats. Between 1993 and 2015, the New York Times reports, 11 people were killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States.
California’s new prospective law seeks to curb violence against providers by outlawing doxing. The law says that “A person, business, or association shall not knowingly publicly post or publicly display” personal information or images about “any reproductive health care services patient, provider, or assistant, or other individuals residing at the same home address” with the intent to incite others to harm them, threaten them or instill “objectively reasonable fear for their personal safety.” The law specifically mentions the posting of photos and personal information on…