SAN FRANCISCO — Under siege since a series of undercover videos depicted its executives discussing the procurement and sale of fetal body parts, Planned Parenthood is fighting back by suing the whistle-blowing pro-lifers and the nonprofit organization that carried out the investigation into the abortion provider’s practices.
Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Thursday in San Francisco, describing the Center for Medical Progress as part of a “complex criminal enterprise” that the abortion provider alleges violated racketeering laws, conducted illegal secret recordings and set up fake companies and obtained fraudulent identifications to gain access to private abortion conferences and meetings in three states.
The lawsuit claims that David Daleiden, the Catholic pro-life activist who founded the Center for Medical Progress, and his associates violated the Federal Racketeering and Corrupt Organization Act, a law better known as the RICO statute that federal authorities have used to prosecute the mafia.
Daleiden, in a prepared statement, said Planned Parenthood filed its “frivolous” lawsuit in retaliation for his investigative journalism, protected by the First Amendment, which has done “nothing more than tell the truth about Planned Parenthood’s lawless operation.”
Said Daleiden, “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.”
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, a legal firm representing Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress, told the Register that the Planned Parenthood lawsuit is more of a public-relations strategy than it is a serious effort to bring a legal claim against the defendants.
“Frankly, the allegations are akin to the real racketeers claiming that those who brought their crimes to light are guilty themselves of racketeering,” Brejcha said. “It’s a reflexive type of complaint that says more about the plaintiffs than it does about the defendants.”
Brejcha added that racketeering, mail and wire fraud are financial and property crimes.
“These were not money or property-driven behaviors on the part of the defendants,” Brejcha said. “These were efforts by people of goodwill to find the unseemly and horrible ghastly truths about what goes on behind closed doors at Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. The tapes show that in unrelenting, almost painfully, vivid detail.”
Last summer, the National Abortion Federation also filed a federal lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress that sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop Daleiden from releasing video and audio recordings of NAF meetings. That lawsuit, which is still pending, also claimed that CMP violated the RICO statute. Brejcha said he is trying to get the restraining order overturned so those videos can also be released to the public.
“We always figured the National Abortion Federation was suing as a proxy for Planned Parenthood,” Brejcha said. “Now, of course, the real interested party has come forward.”
The Abortion Lobby and RICO
The abortion lobby has previously used the RICO statute to target pro-lifers. In 1986, the National Organization for Women and two abortion businesses sued the Pro-Life Action League, its president, Joseph Scheidler, and others. The plaintiffs originally alleged violations of federal anti-trust laws but later broadened the case to include the alleged RICO violations.
That case lingered in the federal courts for more than 20 years, until the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2006, ruled in Scheidler’s favor, ultimately overturning a jury’s verdict in 1988 that had convicted Scheidler and the pro-life defendants. In April 2014, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals awarded the defendants $63,391 in court costs.
Brejcha and the Thomas More Society also represented the defendants in the Pro-Life Action League lawsuit.
“It’s a little bit of deja vu all over again: the same charges, but a different set of characters,” Brejcha said.
“From our experience at the Pro-Life Action League, we know how very troubling and distracting it is when you have a lawsuit, when you have someone going after you, trying to sue you for something,” said Eric Scheidler, the executive director of the organization.
Scheidler, the son of Pro-Life Action League founder Joseph Scheidler, told the Register that Planned Parenthood is using the lawsuit as retaliation against Daleiden and as an intimidation tactic to discourage pro-life activists from conducting future undercover investigations into the abortion provider’s activities.
“They’re hoping to silence the citizen-journalists like David Daleiden, Lila Rose and others who were doing the job the mainstream media has refused to do to hold Planned Parenthood accountable,” Scheidler said.
Rose, the president of Live Action who has also conducted undercover video investigations at Planned Parenthood facilities, said in a prepared statement that the lawsuit shows Planned Parenthood is “desperate,” knowing that its taxpayer funding may disappear with a new president in 2017.
Said Rose, “Just as it crushes the bodies of preborn children in its facilities, Planned Parenthood is now seeking to crush any dissent towards its crimes against humanity. … May its arrogance and barbaric practices lead to its downfall.”
Planned Parenthood filed its lawsuit less than a week after President Barack Obama vetoed legislation on Jan. 8 that would have stripped all federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which receives more than $500 million annually in taxpayer money, for one year. The bill would have also redirected those funds to community health centers.
In addition to voting to defund Planned Parenthood, the Republican-led Congress also tasked committees to investigate the United States’ largest abortion provider over allegations of illegal activity. Two committees did not find evidence that Planned Parenthood violated federal laws, but the House has launched a special investigative panel to look further into the abortion provider’s practices.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, called the Planned Parenthood lawsuit "an attempt to punish those who have exposed the truth."
“Undercover videos have exposed in numbing candor several high-level Planned Parenthood leaders gleefully talking about procuring children’s organs for a price, all while altering gruesome dismemberment procedures to preserve intact livers, hearts and lungs from freshly killed babies," he said. "Planned Parenthood is ‘Child Abuse Incorporated.’ We will not be deterred in exposing the Planned Parenthood scandal, no matter how aggressive and misleading the cover-up.”
Meanwhile, several states launched investigations after the Center for Medical Progress released 10 videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the procurement and selling of body parts taken from aborted children. Daleiden said the videos prove that Planned Parenthood sells fetal body parts for profit, which is prohibited under federal law.
“The tapes speak for themselves,” Brejcha said. “They weren’t doctored. The disclosures come out of their own mouths on the tapes. Frankly, criminality, in many ways, is implicated repeatedly, which is why all these investigations are going on. These are matters of overwhelming public interest, and they involve criminal behavior, evidence of which is rife throughout the tapes.”
Planned Parenthood’s Position
Fetal body parts can legally be sold for medical research purposes, but not for a profit. Planned Parenthood is only allowed to charge for the associated costs of procuring, handling and shipping fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood says it has not violated any federal laws and has defended the practice of donating fetal tissue for medical research, although the abortion provider announced last October that it would no longer accept reimbursement for fetal tissue.
Since the undercover videos became public, six states have moved to defund Planned Parenthood, while other states have launched investigations. In Ohio, the attorney general said he found evidence that Planned Parenthood facilities violated state law by discarding aborted children in local landfills, prompting legislators to fill a bill requiring that aborted babies be cremated or buried.
Planned Parenthood said 10 states have cleared its affiliates of any wrongdoing and that another eight states cited a lack of any evidence to warrant investigations. Planned Parenthood says the videos are “highly edited” and misleading and accuses Daleiden and his associates of conducting a “smear campaign.”
Planned Parenthood said it is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The abortion provider also claims in its filings that the undercover videos have led to a “dramatic increase” in threats and harassment targeted at Planned Parenthood facilities, the most notable example being a November 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs that killed a police officer and two civilians.
Brejcha said Planned Parenthood’s accusations that the tapes are misleading are themselves “exercises in fiction.” He said Daleiden edited the videos to show the highlights of lengthy conversations in the same manner that news outlets edit stories. He added that Daleiden also posted the unedited videos online.
“I think Planned Parenthood is walking on thin ice, and the temperature is getting warmer and warmer,” said Brejcha, adding that the litigation presents him and attorneys for the defendants the opportunity to depose Planned Parenthood officials.
“These unseemly truths will become even more glaringly apparent,” he said.
Eric Scheidler, of the Pro-Life Action League, said Planned Parenthood is using the lawsuit to undermine the credibility of the undercover videos.
“They’re trying to continue that narrative and maintain that false impression that somehow these videos are falsehoods about Planned Parenthood,” Scheidler said. “And they could succeed at that. Planned Parenthood are very practiced liars, and they often succeed with their lies.”
Scheidler called on the pro-life community and their supporters to pray for Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress, to contribute to their defense and to keep up the public pressure on Planned Parenthood.
“Not everybody can do undercover stings like David Daleiden did at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars and years of work, but almost anyone can go out to their local Planned Parenthood facility to pray, to counsel, to protest, to speak the truth,” said Scheidler, who added: “That’s what David wants from all of us. That’s what the purpose of these videos was: to mobilize the country, to mobilize this movement, so let’s keep the pressure on Planned Parenthood and not let them get away with intimidating David Daleiden or any one of us.”
Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.