Houston’s Planned Parenthood affiliate has joined a federal lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-abortion group behind the secretly recorded, deceptively edited videos purporting to show the health care provider illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.
The federal suit, originally filed in January by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and some Colorado Planned Parenthood affiliates, alleges that CMP ringleader David Daleiden and other anti-abortion activists violated a federal organized crime law, known as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The California-based suit also alleges CMP and its activists committed fraud, trespassed on private property, illegally and secretly recorded footage and invaded the privacy of Planned Parenthood employees.
CMP activists “used false identities to enter sensitive clinical areas, secretly and maliciously videotaping without concern for patient privacy or safety,” according to a PPGC statement.
CMP publicly released the first of its videos in July 2015, prompting a slew of state and federal investigations into the provider’s fetal tissue donation practices. So far, no state, including Texas, has turned up any wrongdoing. The Harris County DA instead indicted Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt, another CMP activist, in January on felony charges of tampering with government documents.
“Extreme anti-abortion politicians who want to ban abortion have invoked these lies to fuel their efforts to pass extreme restrictions on access to reproductive health care,” said Melaney Linton, president of PPGC, in a statement. “Even after David Daleiden has been indicted on a felony charge and these videos have been thoroughly discredited, women are still facing devastating consequences from these smear videos. These extreme anti-abortion activists acted illegally and then spread lies about our care.”
CMP activists have defended their actions as “investigative journalism” and an exercise of their First Amendment rights. In a January statement responding to the lawsuit, CMP called the allegations “frivolous.”
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is one of 10 plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, which also argues that CMP used fraudulent government IDs and lied when creating a nonprofit fetal tissue procurement company called Biomax.
Since the videos were released, Texas has launched three separate investigations into Planned Parenthood. In July, lawmakers held a four-hour legislative hearing during which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called abortion a “true abomination” that should be illegal.
The videos also prompted Texas to boot the health care provider from the joint federal-state Medicaid program, which provides family planning and other preventive health care services to low-income women. Texas Democratic lawmakers have said they also suspect that anti-Planned Parenthood sentiment in the highest ranks of state government prompted Texas, in December, to pull a grant that had allowed PPGC to conduct HIV prevention and outreach work in southeast Texas for nearly 30 years.