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Planned Parenthood sues anti-abortion group behind secret videos

In a new federal civil suit, Planned Parenthood says the Center for Medical Progress broke state and federal laws and endangered its providers.
A police officer from the counterterrorism department stands guard outside Planned Parenthood on Nov. 30, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)
A police officer from the counterterrorism department stands guard outside Planned Parenthood on Nov. 30, 2015 in New York City.

Exactly six months after the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress released its first secretly recorded video accusing Planned Parenthood of trafficking in fetal tissue, the women's health provider has filed suit in a San Francisco federal district court.

The suit alleges that the Center for Medical Progress and its contributors and advisers, who are individually named, broke federal and state laws, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, as well as invasion of privacy and recording laws. It asks for extensive monetary damages, saying Planned Parenthood providers have faced death threats, been forced to move or go into hiding and been picketed at their homes. 

"We are filing this lawsuit to hold accountable the people behind this reckless smear campaign," said Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, on a call with reporters.

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For three years, anti-abortion activists led by David Daleiden posed as agents of a tissue procurement agency, allegedly using fake drivers' licenses to attend closed conferences of abortion providers and try to catch them on video breaking the law. The videos, released in a series beginning in July, show Planned Parenthood staff, including doctors, casually discussing the mechanisms of donating fetal tissue after abortion for medical research purposes. The Center for Medical Progress claims the videos show Planned Parenthood is "selling baby parts" because they feature discussion of nominal fees, which Planned Parenthood maintains are legal reimbursements for costs and which it has since ceased charging. Planned Parenthood has also pointed out that none of its staffers signed the fake contracts offered by Daleiden and his associates. 

No criminal charges have been brought against any party. At least eight state investigations have turned up no impropriety from Planned Parenthood, and though California state Attorney General Kamala Harris said she would look at whether the Center for Medical Progress has broken state law, no charges have been announced. But under law, Planned Parenthood has the right to bring its own case. 

"The content of these videos was wrongfully and illegally obtained," the complaint says. "Moreover, according to expert forensic analysis, Defendants’ heavily edited short videos and transcripts do not present a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict. Rather, the heavily edited short videos “significantly distort and misrepresent the conversations depicted.”

The lawsuit also says that in the months of July and August alone, there were 849 reported incidents of vandalism at Planed Parenthood centers, a nine-fold increase compared to the month before. It points to attempted arsons at Planned Parenthood centers in Illinois and New Orleans, as well as the November 27, 2015, shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs that killed three people and injured nine. Robert Lewis Dear, who took credit for the killings, told a Denver TV station this week,  “I picked Planned Parenthood because it’s murdering little babies.” 

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The Center for Medical Progress already faces two other civil lawsuits, one from an actual tissue procurement company, StemExpress, and another from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which has so far successfully blocked the group from releasing video recorded at NAF's conference of abortion providers.

In a written statement, CMP said, "Planned Parenthood is under investigation by the United States Congress and multiple law enforcement agencies, while their business is drying up and the public is turning against their barbaric abortion for baby parts trade. Now they are filing a frivolous lawsuit in retaliation for CMP’s First Amendment investigative journalism that has done nothing more than tell the truth about Planned Parenthood’s lawless operations. This last-ditch move of desperation is going to expose all of the sordid dealings of the California Planned Parenthood affiliates to the light of the legal system and the public will see them for the corrupt abortion and baby body parts profiteers that they really are."

Planned Parenthood's suit comes several months after the other groups'. Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, attributed the lag time to the “very complex conspiracy” involved. “It really has taken some time to investigate the network of people who perpetrated this fraud and the multiple laws that they broke in the process,” she said.

Beth Parker, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, told reporters that the case, which is expected to involve discovery and a trial, could be an "at least 18 month proposition."

One of the named defendants, Troy Newman, is a longtime anti-abortion activist and president of Operation Rescue. In November, Newman endorsed Ted Cruz's campaign for president, for which Cruz said he was "grateful," adding, "We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.” Last week, Planned Parenthood endorsed Hillary Clinton.