A federal judge is considering whether to penalize an antiabortion activist for Internet postings that included covertly recorded videos and the names of abortion providers that were supposed to be barred from public release.
District Judge William H. Orrick of San Francisco late Thursday directed David Daleiden and his attorneys to take down at least 11 names and several hours of video secretly filmed at two National Abortion Federation conferences, which they had posted online this week. Orrick issued an injunction last year barring the release of the footage and names, but an attorney defending Daleiden in a separate criminal case posted the material on his website, arguing that it had become part of the public record.
Daleiden complied with the order; the videos were removed from YouTube on Thursday night and the names struck from his attorney’s website. Orrick also set a June 14 hearing to determine whether to hold Daleiden in contempt for what appeared to be an “intentional violation” of the injunction.
It is the latest twist in a long-running saga involving Daleiden, who made headlines two years ago for secretly recording conversations with abortion providers in an attempt to prove that Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization, illegally sells fetal tissue for profit.
Posing as a representative from a biomedical firm, Daleiden and hired actors visited Planned Parenthood clinics, attended conferences and lunched with high-level officials. Wearing a hidden camera, he captured his subjects speaking in casual and often graphic terms about abortion procedures and methods for removing fetus parts so they can be extracted to meet the demands of researchers. Edited versions of the videos have been widely viewed online.
Planned Parenthood denied any wrongdoing, and multiple state investigations have failed to find evidence that the group violated any laws. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, earlier this year charged Daleiden and a partner with 15 felony counts of violating the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without their consent.
The project gave fuel to abortion foes in Washington, who are considering unprecedented action against Planned Parenthood. The Senate is preparing to consider a health-care bill that would, among other things, block the organization from receiving reimbursements from Medicaid. President Trump this week proposed in his budget cutting off other federal funds to the group.
In a statement, Planned Parenthood officials noted the timing of the release of the new videos, which were online for most of the day Thursday. “The malicious attacks on Planned Parenthood and on women’s health are baseless and this latest one is clearly intended to fuel attacks in Congress that would deny millions of women access to birth control and cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers,” the organization said.
The National Abortion Federation, which filed the lawsuit that led to Orrick’s injunction, also condemned the release of the blocked videos and names. The organization’s president, Vicki Saporta, said abortion providers sometimes face threats and violence, and they have been particularly on edge since a gunman killed three people and wounded nine at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015. NAF has recorded a spike in threats against abortion providers since Daleiden’s initial videos went public.
“This baseless smear campaign has threatened the safety and security of abortion providers and the future of life-saving medical research,” Saporta said in a statement. “We will not rest until Daleiden and his co-conspirators are held accountable for their actions.”
The material was online long enough to catch the attention of a number of antiabortion activists. “How long will we be blind to the brutal destruction of these vulnerable babies?” one activist, Lila Rose, said in a statement. Anonymously posted clips of the covert video began showing up on a popular file-sharing site Friday.
Daleiden’s criminal defense attorneys, Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira, initially posted the videos and names publicly hoping to draw out women who had been harmed by the doctors featured in them, Ferreira said in an interview. Ferreira rejected the idea that doing so left the providers vulnerable to violence.
“David Daleiden is not responsible for that madman in Colorado,” he said, referring to the 2015 shootings.
In remarks on Cooley’s firm’s website, the attorneys called Daleiden an investigative journalist and described his revelations as “the most infamous and disturbing story of unethical and illegal medical practices since the Tuskegee Institute scandal.”
They argued that the names of the abortion providers Daleiden secretly recorded at the National Abortion Federation conferences became part of the public record earlier this month, when Becerra disclosed them to Daleiden’s legal team. The individuals were listed anonymously as victims in the criminal complaint, and they were provided to Cooley and his associates with the caveat that they were “confidential.” But, the remarks said, “there is no protective order in place in state court that would protect the names … and David is entitled to a public defense.”