Abortion Foe Fighting Lid on Secret Videos

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – An anti-abortion group asked a federal judge Tuesday for permission to respond to subpoenas seeking information it obtained from secretly recording an abortion-rights group’s meetings.
A temporary restraining order barring the release of that information was issued on July 31 after the National Abortion Federation sued the Center for Medical Progress on claims it illegally recorded its meetings and invaded the privacy of its members.
On Aug. 14, CMP filed a motion to clarify the restraining order as it relates to responding to government-issued subpoenas.
The CMP said it received an official request for information from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on July 31 and a subpoena from the Arizona Attorney General on Aug. 11.
Release of the group’s secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood executives in recent weeks has ignited renewed national debate over abortion issues, leading some states like Arizona to open investigations into the sale of fetal tissue. Fallout from the videos, which Planned Parenthood says were deceptively edited to imply wrongdoing, also led to a failed attempt by some U.S. senators to defund Planned Parenthood in early August.
In its motion to clarify the restraining order, CMP argued that California law has established an official-proceedings privilege that exempts parties from civil liability for cooperating with government investigations.
“The California Supreme Court is very clear in distinguishing between litigation proceedings and the absolute privilege to participate in official proceedings,” said CMP attorney John Sauer.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick said he believes NAF has a right to know what’s being released and challenge it if necessary. However, the CMP has invoked its Fifth Amendment right not to confer with NAF or discuss any information it has obtained or may release to law enforcement officials.
Maria Syms, of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, made a special appearance in the Northern District of California courtroom to argue that NAF should not be made aware of any information disclosed to authorities in Arizona.
“If we allow this disclosure to individuals who could be witnesses or targets of the investigation, that could chill the investigation,” Syms said.
However, NAF attorney Derek Foran responded that Arizona has no basis for issuing the subpoena because Planned Parenthood’s Arizona chapter is not a member of the NAF, and Planned Parenthood also has no tissue-donation program in place in Arizona.
“We want the opportunity to contest the validity of this subpoena,” said Foran.
Syms countered that the Arizona attorney general investigates out-of-state businesses with in-state implications all the time. She said the Northern District of California has no authority to modify a subpoena issued in Arizona.
“You may not have the authority to alter the subpoena, but you do have the authority to enforce your order against CMP,” Foran told the judge.
Syms also assured the judge that any records seized by Arizona law enforcement would remain confidential, though she acknowledged the attorney general can disclose information when it is determined to be in the public interest.
“Arizona is quite capable of maintaining confidentiality,” Syms said.
Orrick asked both parties to submit briefs on the CMP’s invocation of its Fifth Amendment right to not meet and confer with NAF regarding information it wants to release to the Arizona AG’s office.
Following the hearing, Foran said the NAF will wait until Orrick issues a ruling on the subpoena question before it challenges the validity of the attorney general’s subpoena in Arizona state court.
Foran denied that any evidence CMP obtained from its secret recording of NAF meetings would implicate his clients in any criminal wrongdoing.
“This is just a trade association of people that get together, drink wine and network,” Foran said of the NAF. “We can’t imagine any evidence of wrongdoing coming out of this meeting.”

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