The Planned Parenthood Video Scammers Deserve Prosecution

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.

7 thoughts on “The Planned Parenthood Video Scammers Deserve Prosecution

  1. Thank you maha. . Get a load of the new bills passed in Arkansas and Missouri. we are 2nd class citizens now.

  2. The same paper, a day earlier ran The legal stakes at play in California’s case against anti-abortion activists:

    California’s prosecution of two antiabortion activists on felony charges of invasion of privacy appears to be on solid ground, though the case is likely to test the strength of the state’s ban on the surreptitious recording of others, legal experts said Wednesday.

    Stanford law professor Robert Weisberg said the state appears to have the evidence needed to win convictions.

    For the activists to argue the recordings were “in the public interest to expose some very bad activity imputed to the victims here — well sorry, you can’t do that,” Weisberg said. “Becerra is on very strong ground here.”

    Other legal analysts were less certain.

    UC Hastings law professor Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor, said the question of when deception can be used to gather information affects many areas of the law.

    “This one is really interesting because of the political tilt to it,” Little said. “We generally feel like there is a privilege for journalists. If this were the Washington Post having infiltrated the Aryan Brotherhood gang, we might be cheering and saying, ‘Good work.’ ”

    Little said a 1st Amendment defense by the activists would likely complicate the prosecution, particularly given “the atmospherics” of the case.

    “To me,” Little said, “the interesting question is not so much is this a hard criminal case to prove, but that there is going to be a 1st Amendment challenge to the use of the statute” in addition to charges of selective prosecution.

    California has long had stronger privacy protections than most states. A right to privacy is even enshrined in the California Constitution.

    But California’s privacy laws have been tested most frequently in the context of civil litigation, not under the higher hurdles of criminal law.

    …The law against secret recordings, however, does not shield journalists, Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson said.

    “Even citizen journalists have to comply with criminal statutes,” she said. “That is the bottom line.”

  3. Agree completely with your conclusion, Maha, but not entirely with your reasoning. The waste of taxpayer dollars is no justification for pursuing criminal action. Finding a statute however out of place it may seem, to punish antisocial behavior which has caused or might reasonably be expected to cause personal or property damage IS reason to apply the law – shall we say – creatively.

    Look at my Gyro flight. I actually committed three misdemeanors, flying through three restricted zones. In any other place or time, flying an ultralight aircraft with an oversize gas tank would result in a CIVIL penalty at most. Ultralights out of compliance happens all the time and I’m the only person who has been charged with felony flying an aircraft without registration (because the tank meant it was no longer ultralight) and flying without a license (because if the plane needed to be registered, I needed to have a license).

    It’s anybody’s guess whether the creative application of the law was to punish me for embarrassing idiots or whether it was to discourage other aerial demonstrations. IMO, anyone who is willing to risk life and limb won’t be terrified of 120 days – and if they are, they can get registration and a license. But my point is – if you want to stick your neck out for good or bad reasons, law enforcement can get you. As it should be – civil disobedience is not without consequences. If you don’t want to risk consequences, stay within legal demonstrating.

    The clowns who did this thought that by having no assets (if they were sued) they had no liability, and they expected any losses would be covered by their fans. The fanatics think that the end justifies the means – any falsehood, threat or deception is OK if it’s leveled against abortion firms or those who work for them. There needs to be a reckoning for that – the Al Capone comparison is apt.

    Demonstrators need to be disciplined to stay clearly legal. No weapons, no violence, no threats (including implicit) & no vandalism. The authorities want to define the rules of engagement for liberals – we can’t be on the grass, but we’re not allowed on the sidewalk and we can legally be run down if we are in the road. We can demonstrate, as long as we aren’t standing on the ground or flying. If our protesting is not to be criminalized – their protesting can’t be criminalized but BOTH sides have to adhere to rules and the police have to prosecute even-handedly for violations.

    • “The waste of taxpayer dollars is no justification for pursuing criminal action.” I appreciate your position here. However, in this case the perps fabricated evidence and knowingly made a false claim to smear Planned Parenthood. I believe that in some other civilized countries, doing stuff like can result in criminal prosecution, not just civil suits. If they had filed a false police report, they could have gotten jail time.

  4. Ah, a couple of felony convictions is a small price to pay for martyrdom status in the anti-abortion movement. I hope he ends up as Bubba’s main squeeze at San Quentin. He’s gonna be the queen of the cell block when they turn his colon into a uterus.
    It’s a shame that he slipped the noose in Texas with a forged drivers license..You’d assume that after 9/11 anybody who alters an identification document of that nature would be faced with some serious consequences. Evidently in Texas they don’t see illegal activities of anti abortions zealots as a threat to public safety.

  5. Let me put this in Texasees, even though, at present, this case is in California:
    R U f’in kidin meh?

    “Lock ‘Em Up” – repeat ad nauseum!

    The actions of these two “Christian” zealots endangers – potentially – over 50% of the population of the state.

    I’d love to see what happened if some liberal women made a faux video where, when men take some “quicker-pecker-upper” pills, the p*nis of a amle goes off like a rocket!

    It’s just as fake!
    And besides, if it were true, a few less dick’s with dicks would surely be an improvement!

  6. Tomorrow is National Screening Day for 1984, starring the great John Hurt, and theatres around the country are showing the film:

    Orwell’s novel begins with the sentence, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Less than one month into the new presidential administration, theater owners collectively believe the clock is already striking thirteen. Orwell’s portrait of a government that manufactures their own facts, demands total obedience, and demonizes foreign enemies, has never been timelier. The endeavor encourages theaters to take a stand for our most basic values: freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings, and the simple truth that there are no such things as ‘alternative facts.’ By doing what they do best – showing a movie – the goal is that cinemas can initiate a much-needed community conversation at a time when the existence of facts, and basic human rights are under attack. Through nationwide participation and strength in numbers, these screenings are intended to galvanize people at the crossroads of cinema and community, and bring us together to foster communication and resistance against current efforts to undermine the most basic tenets of our society.”

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