Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against the anti-abortion activists that produced a series of heavily edited, deceptive undercover videos of the family planning provider’s staffers talking about fetal tissue donations.
The civil suit accuses the defendants — the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress and a fake fetal tissue procurement company called “BioMax”– of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and committing fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing. The accused conspirators, David Daleiden, Troy Newman and four other activists, used fake government IDs to gain entry into private medical conferences, secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood staffers, and sliced up those interviews into a series of inflammatory videos that accuse the family planning provider of selling fetal tissue for profit.
“This case is about a network of antiabortion extremists and the laws they broke in order to spread lies and harm Planned Parenthood,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said on Thursday. “This entire smear campaign is a fraud built on illegal acts and a web of lies.”
Planned Parenthood said the misleading videos, which have been viewed by millions of people, “created a poisonous environment” that has deeply threatened the security of its employees and providers. “Planned Parenthood staff has been demonized, the providers have been threatened with death, picketed at their homes, bombarded with hate mail, and forced to move or go into hiding,” Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood’s California affiliates, said on Thursday.
The legal battle began July 14 when the Center for Medical Progress released the first in a series of video clips that the anti-choice group claimed were “proof” of “Planned Parenthood’s illegal trafficking of aborted fetal parts.” Those claims were thoroughly disproven just days later upon release of the full, unedited video, which clearly showed that the discussion was about the legal donation of fetal tissue. Multiple investigations by state governments and congressional committees have turned up no evidence that Planned Parenthood violated the law.
Nevertheless, the debunked videos were quickly picked up by right-wing media and used as an excuse to attack Planned Parenthood and anyone associated with them, spurring a wave of violence and hatred against the women’s health care organization. The man accused of opening fire on a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in November alluded to the videos in an interview with law enforcement, and there were four arson attacks at Planned Parenthood affiliates in the months after the first video was released. Republican politicians have used the videos as fuel for their yearslong campaign to defund the family planning provider, although President Obama has threatened to veto Congress’ efforts.
While a spokesperson for the organization says it has suffered in many ways from the undercover video campaign, she promised it will keep its doors open and continue to provide birth control, abortion services, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted infection treatments through all of its roughly 700 health centers across the country.
“CMP’s reckless and dangerous actions have created a poisonous environment that fuels political attacks on access to reproductive health care and feeds threats against our health centers,” said Kathy Kneer, CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “We’re going on the offensive to expose this fraud for what it is and hold the people behind it accountable — in order to prevent further harassment of our patients and staff and protect access to the preventive and reproductive health care Planned Parenthood provides to millions of people each year.”
The lawsuit seeks restitution for actual losses caused by CMP as well as compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees. It hasn’t named a dollar figure, but it claims that CMP’s actions have cost Planned Parenthood millions. Should Planned Parenthood prevail, it would be a profound economic blow to the anti-abortion movement.
David Daleiden, the primary activist behind the videos, issued a defiant statement in response to the lawsuit, saying: “Game on.” Likewise, the Center for Medical Progress released a statement Thursday calling the lawsuit “frivolous” and claiming that Planned Parenthood is under investigation by “multiple law enforcement agencies.”
Planned Parenthood is not, in fact, under investigation by any law enforcement agencies, and the partisan congressional committee investigating the group has admitted that they have failed to turn up evidence of any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. In contrast, CMP has already been slapped with a temporary restraining order for violating California’s wiretap law.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood say the case is not likely to be resolved any time soon. The last time Planned Parenthood took on the anti-abortion movement like this was in the 1990s, when it sued 12 anti-abortion activists and two anti-abortion groups for creating “Wanted” posters targeting clinic doctors. That case dragged on for a decade, though it was ultimately resolved in Planned Parenthood’s favor in 2006. So while Daleiden may view the lawsuit as a “game” right now, it’s likely that his opinion will change as the legal fees mount in what is sure to be a grueling battle against the nation’s leading provider of reproductive and sexual health care.