Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the maker of a series of undercover videos released last year that sought to prove that the women’s health organization illegally profits by selling tissue from aborted fetuses.
In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, officials with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its California affiliates alleged that the Center for Medical Progress broke multiple federal laws as part of its campaign, including violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly called RICO, as well as engaging in mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing.
“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 during a teleconference with reporters Thursday. “This entire smear campaign is a fraud built on illegal acts and a web of lies.”
Laguens also repeated what Planned Parenthood has long maintained — that the organization did nothing wrong regarding its fetal tissue donation program and that the videos were edited in a way to mislead the public.
Attorneys with Planned Parenthood suggested that the lawsuit could drag on for as many as 18 months, and Laguens said she expects it to be injected into the political conversation this year as lawmakers in some states attempt to pass more abortion restrictions and the issue of reproductive rights arises as part of presidential election campaigns.
David Daleiden, project leader for the Center for Medical Progress and the primary activist behind the videos, issued a defiant statement.
“Game on,” he said. “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.”
The lawsuit is an attempt to go on the offense against Daleiden, whose project energized the antiabortion movement and its efforts to cut off state and federal funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides health-care services, including abortions.
Daleiden, previously little known in antiabortion circles, spent nearly three years on the project. Posing as a sales representative for a fetal tissue procurement company called BioMax, he attempted to draw Planned Parenthood affiliates into contracts to sell fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research.
Federal law prohibits abortion clinics from selling fetal tissue for profit but allows them to recoup the costs of storing and delivering the tissue.
While the videos did not prove any illegal activity on the part of Planned Parenthood, they shed an unflattering light on some of the group’s officials, who were caught on hidden cameras speaking casually and, at times, lightly about abortion procedures and fetal body parts.
Planned Parenthood has long condemned the videos as heavily edited in an attempt to mislead viewers.
Still, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, publicly apologized for the tone of the comments of one official captured on tape, and the organization stopped accepting reimbursements for the fetal tissue it donates.
The lawsuit centers on the ways Daleiden and his collaborators tried to mislead Planned Parenthood and others. It alleges that Daleiden used fake IDs to register for private conferences and signed nondisclosure and other agreements to gain access to top-level Planned Parenthood officials — agreements that he would later disregard.
The suit also details the harms that it says befell Planned Parenthood as a result of the video campaign. Several doctors featured in the videos have been threatened with bodily harm, the lawsuit alleges, and Planned Parenthood has had to contend with a number of costly investigations by state officials seeking evidence of wrongdoing. So far, none of the states that have investigated Planned Parenthood has found evidence of the illegal sale of fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood is seeking an injunction barring Daleiden and others involved with the project from ever trying to enter a Planned Parenthood clinic or conference in the future and from surreptitiously filming. It is also seeking unspecified penalties and damages.