Planned Parenthood Files Lawsuit Over Secretly Filmed Videos

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A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York
Planned Parenthood fights back.Photo: LUCAS JACKSON/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group responsible for secretly filming abortion providers over a two-year span. The suit, to be filed in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charges that the Irvine, California–based activists violated the Federal Racketeering and Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO Act.

The lawsuit is the most aggressive legal counterattack yet by Planned Parenthood in response to CMP’s "smear campaign" videos — which purport to show that affiliate Planned Parenthood providers donated fetal tissue for profit — released last July. Calls by Democratic lawmakers for the Department of Justice to investigate the self-described group of "citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances" went unheard. In August, a U.S. District Court judge blocked CMP from showing videos containing footage recorded at two conferences hosted by the National Abortion Federation. The recordings were made in violation of confidentiality agreements signed by conference attendees.

In talking points obtained by Daily Intelligencer outlining the suit, Planned Parenthood, in conjunction with its California affiliates infiltrated by the anti-abortion group, are seeking compensatory and punitive restitution for the "complex criminal enterprise" conducted by CMP and its leader, David Daleiden, who actually works for Live Action, the notorious anti-abortion group known for its history of heavily edited Planned Parenthood sting videos.

The suit outlines the steps taken by Daleiden & Co. just to get in the buildings of the various abortion providers. Among them: falsified licenses, and creating a fake fetal-tissue research company called “BioMax Procurement Services” with a fictitious CEO, faux employees, and a sham website. They even mocked up company materials — all to make videos that are essentially fiction. 

A key point in Planned Parenthood’s case, one that has been raised before, is CMP’s claim for tax-exempt status. According to the progressive research group American Bridge, the group was granted 501(c)3 nonprofit status by the IRS as a “biomedicine charity” for its work as a self-proclaimed bio-ethics awareness group. But as Planned Parenthood alleges, CMP did very little in the way of bioethics work, opting to focus all of its energies on surreptitious undercover operations bent on smearing Planned Parenthood. The IRS would, technically, classify an organization carrying out this line of work as “Right to Life.” 

And the videos have been thoroughly debunked; they triggered a virulent backlash against the women’s-health-services provider by conservative lawmakers in Congress, in state legislatures, and on debate stages — not to mention a nine-fold uptick in threats of violence against abortion providers. The U.S. District Court judge who demurred on the possibility of criminal wrongdoing by CMP acknowledged the charged climate created by the videos — and the role they may have played in contributing to November’s "baby-parts" shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado. 

States with conservative governors and legislatures, despite their inability to resolutely pin criminal behavior on the Planned Parenthood affiliates in their states, have taken steps to stamp out funding to the women’s organization. Just yesterday, Missouri governor Sam Brownback ordered his state’s Medicaid program to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, a move the group has already pledged to fight in court.