Last week California prosecutors filed 15 felony charges against the two anti-abortion crusaders who released deceptively edited videos to claim that Planned Parenthood was engaged in illegal fetal tissue sales.
Two anti-abortion activists who filmed undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood have been charged with 15 felonies in California. Prosecutors say David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress used fake identities and an invented bioresearch company to meet medical providers and record their private conversation without consent at several locations in the state.
Daleiden is a 28-year-old activist whose undercover videos have electrified the anti-abortion movement since he started releasing them in 2015. The first and most notorious video captured a Planned Parenthood medical director discussing the donation of fetal tissue with what some saw as callous informality—over wine and salad, as abortion opponents like to emphasize. The employee thought she was having a conversation with two representatives of a tissue-procurement company. Within months of the video’s release, the Washington Post called Daleiden “the biggest star in the anti-abortion firmament.” …
…Daleiden and Merritt were indicted on similar charges in Texas last year, but those charges were dropped after six months. Meanwhile, investigators in California were moving forward with their case, searching Daleiden’s apartment almost a year ago, and seizing a laptop and hard drives. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations,” California attorney general Xavier Becerra said in a statement this week.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board disagrees with these charges, calling it prosecutorial overreach:
It’s disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be. Planned Parenthood and biomedical company StemExpress, which was also featured in the videos, have another remedy for the harm that was done to them: They can sue Daleiden and Merritt for damages. The state doesn’t need to threaten the pair with prison time.
How much do I disagree with the LA Times? Let me count the ways …
First, it wasn’t just Planned Parenthood and StemExpress who were damaged. Taxpayers footed the bills for all the investigations that went forward because of this scam. This is from September 2016, while the tab was still running:
The investigations into Planned Parenthood’s practice of fetal tissue donation are running up quite a tab. Meanwhile, the man who prompted them has not received a single fine.
After anti-abortion activist and Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden alleged in a series of undercover videos last year that Planned Parenthood was selling donated fetal tissue for a profit, Republican-led investigations quickly followed and they have not been cheap.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee panel investigating Planned Parenthood is on track to spend at least $790,000, according to a recent report from Rewire. In addition to the previous congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood, a dozen states have also found room in their budgets for taxpayer-funded inquiries of their own. Texas alone has spent at least $47,000 on what the AustinChronicle has labeled a “witch hunt.”
Legal fees aside, Daleiden himself has only had to post a single $3,000 bond in Texas. …
… Twelve state investigations into Planned Parenthood have found no proof that the women’s health organization sold fetal tissue for a profit, as Daleiden has repeatedly alleged. As Vox reported, eight additional states have refused to open investigations, citing a lack of evidence, and previous congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood have not turned up proof of criminal wrongdoing.
Does the LA Times think those states plus the federal government will sue Daleiden and Merritt to recoup all the taxpayer dollars wasted on investigations because of his false charges? If so, now we’re talking. But I haven’t heard of any such plans.
It would be one thing if someone had legitimate evidence of criminal wrongdoing that triggered investigations, even if the accused entity were eventually exonerated. But when someone fabricates evidence to make a public accusation that triggers expensive investigations, that should not go unpublished. Maybe there’s no specific law against this, but there ought to be.
Second, violence and threats against Planned Parenthood clinics nearly doubled after the release of the doctored videos.
The scene outside women’s health clinics has become dramatically more threatening to patients and providers since 2015, when anti-abortion activists produced a series of heavily edited videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood workers negotiating the sale of fetal body parts. The videos have been thoroughly debunked, and Planned Parenthood has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple investigations. But the percentage of clinics reporting violence and threats by anti-abortion activists nearly doubled after the videos were released, from 19.7 percent of clinics in the first half of 2014 to 34.2 percent in the first half of 2016.
The most common types of violence and intimidation that clinics have reported include stalking, bomb threats, death threats and people blocking access to clinics. In 2015, at one Colorado Planned Parenthood facility, a man broke in and shot 12 people, killing three. He cited the alleged sale of “baby parts” as his motivation. Nearly half of clinics (49.5 percent) reported at least one incident of severe violence or harassment in 2016, such as a break-in, robbery or instance of arson or vandalism. A quarter of all facilities said they experience harassment by anti-abortion protesters on a daily basis.
“This is just not tolerable behavior in a democracy,” said Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a nonprofit. “This would never happen to men walking into a medical clinic.
The man who shot and killed three people in Colorado Springs, Robert Dear, told police he attacked the clinic because he was “upset with them performing abortions and the selling of baby parts.” Three people died as a result of the deceptive video.
In most sensible countries, using speech to incite violence — especially when the speech actually does incite violence — is what’s called a “crime.” After World War II several European nations passed “hate speech” laws to limit the kind of xenophobic, bigoted speech that gave rise of fascism and the Holocaust. It can be argued that in some nations this has been taken too far to curb legitimate speech.
But in the U.S., people can spread lies intended to defame and discredit anybody, even if that speech leads to violence, and nobody can prosecute them for it. The First Amendment protects all kinds of speech that sorta kinds advocates violence in a general way, and because Daleiden and Merritt didn’t actually call on people to go out and bomb abortion clinics they can probably hide behind the First Amendment on this one.
But these people released a deceptive video to spread lies that not only lead to threats, but three people were shot and killed in Colorado Springs because of it.
I’ve written before that if any “activist” group tried the same crap against banks that they pull against abortion clinics, they’d be locked up last week. There’s be no question the perpetrators were terrorists and criminals. But violence against abortion clinics somehow falls into a grey area where terrorism can get away with calling itself “activism.”
In short, the false charges against Planned Parenthood promulgated by Daleiden and Merritt had serious, real-world consequences, including the murder of three people and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars wasted, and these consequences didn’t fall exclusively on Planned Parenthood and StemExpress. Maybe the unlawful recording of private conversations is the only crime they can be charged with, but if they are convicted I will see it as justice. It’s like Al Capone being convicted of tax evasion — he was guilty of so much more, but better those charges than nothing.
And while we’re on the subject — last week the pathological misogynist and so-called vice president Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate that received little notice:
Republican legislation letting states deny federal family planning money to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers advanced toward Senate passage Thursday, rescued by an ailing GOP senator who returned to the Capitol after back surgery and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.
Republican leaders kept a procedural vote open for over an hour after two GOP senators, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, joined Democrats trying to block the measure. Pence then journeyed to the Capitol to break a 50-50 tie and cast the deciding vote in Congress’ latest clash that mixed abortion, women’s health and states’ rights.
I don’t believe this has been signed into law yet, but I don’t see what’s going to stop it.
The terrible irony, of course, is that Vice President Weenie (to be called such henceforth because of his pathological fear of women) has experience with de-funding Planned Parenthood. As governor of Indiana, his slashing of Planned Parenthood and other public health funds led directly to a public health crisis — a massive HIV outbreak. Apparently he’s learned nothing.