GOING TO BATTLE

01.14.16 8:20 PM ET

Planned Parenthood Rightfully Sues Over Shady ‘Tissue’ Videos

After a shady and factually untrue smear campaign by the Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood is fighting back.

What Planned Parenthood does is legal. What was done to Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress and its co-conspirators was not. 

And so today, Planned Parenthood announced that it is filing a civil lawsuit and seeking damages for the illegal act that led to a series of fraudulent videos misrepresenting fetal tissue donations.

After a lengthy and scrupulous private investigation to determine those involved in making the videos and the extent and nature of their conspiracy and illegal acts, Planned Parenthood filed a civil lawsuit in California state court. The lawsuit names the Center for Medical Progress, Biomax Procurement Services, and several individuals, including David Daleiden, Troy Newman, Albin Rhomberg, Phillip S. Cronin, Gerardo Adrian Lopez, and Sandra Susan Merritt.

According to Planned Parenthood, the involvement and/or names of some of those being sued—who either directly illegally recording the secret videos or were leaders in the conspiracy to do so—were not publicly known until now. 

In July, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing videos of secretly recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood doctors that were edited to suggest Planned Parenthood was profiting off of the donation of fetal tissue from abortion procedures. 

The lawsuit notes: “Fetal tissue donation is entirely legal and plays a vital role in medical research” and goes on to point out the many medical breakthroughs achieved through fetal tissue research—from vaccines for polio, hepatitis, and rabies, to treatments for HIV and Parkinson’s disease. 

During a press call to announce the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens made absolutely clear that the assertions in the fraudulent videos are false. Planned Parenthood does not and has never profited off of fetal tissue donations, Laguens said.

And yet while the videos that smeared Planned Parenthood are false, the consequences of those videos are very real. 

Kathy Kneer, head of Planned Parenthood’s Northern California affiliate, outlined the disastrous ripple of the conspiracy against Planned Parenthood. After the videos were released, Planned Parenthood staff featured in the videos were subjected to death threats and in some cases had to move or go into hiding. And Planned Parenthood clinics saw a nine-fold increase in threats of violence, culminating the deadly attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in which the shooter cited the smear campaign’s rhetoric.   

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants engaged in an illegal conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO—as well as violating laws that prohibit recording someone without their consent. In addition, the makers of the videos used fraud to gain entry to several abortion provider conferences and also signed various contracts pledging to protect confidentiality, agreements they plainly violated. The lawsuit argues that the Center for Medical Progress and the named defendants violated the laws of three states, as well as federal law.

It’s unclear whether criminal charges may be filed against Daleiden and others behind the video as well. Planned Parenthood staff could not comment on the status of any potential criminal investigations. But the laws under which they are suing allow for civil suits and penalties separate from any possible criminal culpability. 

In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood is seeking restitution for actual damages as well as compensatory and punitive damages including triple damages allowable under RICO. While the damages amount has not yet been quantified, Planned Parenthood suggested it would include the increased cost of security that was necessary because of the videos.  

There’s deep irony in the fact that the Center for Medical Progress, Daleiden, and their co-conspirators flagrantly broke the law to “expose” perfectly legal behavior on the part of Planned Parenthood. Ironic, but not surprising.  

“Daleiden and his co-conspirators’ goal in releasing these grossly misleading videos was to disrupt Planned Parenthood’s operations to prevent millions of women and men from getting the care we provide,” Laguens said. “But their ultimate goal is to make all abortion illegal and they will stop at nothing—including breaking the law and lying—to pursue their misguided and deeply unpopular agenda.”

The misleading videos have been repeatedly debunked and disproven and state investigations have repeatedly cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. 

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According to Planned Parenthood, 11 states have concluded investigations into claims that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations and all cleared the organization of any wrongdoing; and another eight states didn’t even launch investigations, citing a lack of evidence to suggest wrongdoing in the first place. 

But it appears nothing will stop co-defendant David Daleiden from peddling his conspiratorial lies. In a statement obtained by The Hill, Daleiden said about the suit “game on” and then added: “I look forward to deposing all the CEOs, Medical Directors, and their co-conspirators who participated in Planned Parenthood’s illegal baby body parts racket.” 

Except no matter how much he insists otherwise, Planned Parenthood did not and does not profit off fetal tissue sales and did not break the law. Daleiden, however, might not be so lucky—and hopefully he and his co-conspirators will have to pay.