Planned Parenthood strikes back at right-wing scam artists with major lawsuit: Here's what you need to know

The conservative activists who released deceptively edited "sting" videos might have to face the music after all

Published January 14, 2016 9:15PM (EST)

  (YouTube/The Center for Medical Progress)
(YouTube/The Center for Medical Progress)

Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday that it's filing suit in San Francisco civil court against the activists who created and released a series of videos falsely alleging that the healthcare provider illegally harvested and sold for profit body parts from aborted fetuses. The suit will be filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Francisco.

The defendants include the so-called "Center for Medical Progress" and its associates David Daleiden, Troy Newman, Albin Rhomberg, Sandra Merritt, Gerardo Lopez and Phillip Cronin.

During a conference call with reporters, Kathy Kneer of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California repeatedly referred to the video producers as "conspirators" who plotted to egregiously smear and shut down Planned Parenthood as part of a broader anti-choice, anti-woman agenda. Among other things, the suit charges that CMP and Daleiden violated the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO Act) by engaging in wire fraud, mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing.

RICO is well known as the frequently-cited statute used to monitor and prosecute the mafia.

"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," Kneer said. "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."

Since July, two other lawsuits have been filed against CMP and Daleiden. The company StemExpress filed a suit in state court, and the National Abortion Federation filed the first federal suit, among other things attaining a restraining order against further surreptitious video recordings. It also sought to block the release of any further video footage from NAF's meetings or the publicizing of the personal information of members.

StemExpress won a court victory against CMP in September, sanctioning Daleiden et al to produce documents pertaining to CMP’s communications and un-doctored copies of its video footage. The raw video is key to proving that Daleiden and CMP deceptively edited its recordings to make it appear as if doctors and other workers were admitting illegal and seemingly grisly activities. Meanwhile, CMP has continued to insist that it released the raw footage online, but the outfit refused to turn over copies of the source video files to verify that the "unedited" footage that was posted online matches the source video.

Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told reporters,

"The people behind this fraud lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood. This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable."

As previously published on, seven state-level investigations so far, including probes by conservative red-state governors like Rick Scott of Florida, failed to prove any wrongdoing whatsoever on behalf of Planned Parenthood or its staffers. Additionally, countless independent nonpartisan fact-checkers determined that the videos were in fact deceptively edited. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators have ignored the debunkings, using the existence of the videos to both unfairly and unjustly demonize Planned Parenthood and to de-fund it, even though no federal funds are used for abortions, per the Hyde Amendment. Elsewhere, former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, for example, tried to cut off Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood facilities, even though none of the locations in that state provide abortion services.

The GOP's renewed crusade against Planned Parenthood throughout 2015 has been based on the mendacious, flimsy content of the videos.

Recent polls show 59 percent support for Planned Parenthood, even though its favorables have declined since the 1980s. Only 33 percent of Americans agree with the Republican effort to de-fund it, while 58 percent support its continued funding.

However, on the conservative anti-choice side, the videos have become a shibboleth for the Republican presidential candidates as anti-abortion cred.

Carly Fiorina, for instance, staked her entire presidential campaign on a flagrantly inaccurate description of an apparent late-term abortion seen in one of the videos. It was quickly proven that no such clip appeared in the CMP videos, and that the footage was likely a still-birth rather than an abortion. Fiorina has yet to retract her statements.

Worse, the videos might have helped to motivate domestic terrorist attacks in Thousand Oaks, California, and Pullman, Washington, as well as Robert Lewis Dear's gun massacre at a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado Springs.

"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."

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By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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Aol_on Planned Parenthood Reproductive Justice Reproductive Rights