SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden testified Friday that he believed he was investigating violent criminal acts when he made secret recordings of Planned Parenthood staff.
Daleiden took the stand in a multiweek criminal proceeding that will determine whether he and a colleague will go to trial on 15 felony counts of invasion of privacy and eavesdropping. He told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite that he suspected a tissue procurement company of harvesting tissue from a live 25-week-old fetus at a Planned Parenthood in Northern California.
He said he had multiple conversations with a woman named Holly O’Donnell, whom he believed worked as a tissue procurement technician for Stem Express. O’Donnell had already left the company when he contacted her on Facebook and, during a two-hour phone conversation in October 2013, she told him she had harvested tissue from a “fully intact fetus.”
At that point, Daleiden testified, “I came to suspect Stem Express and Planned Parenthood of Mar Monte of homicide.”
Posing as representatives of a phony fetal tissue procurement company called BioMax, Daleiden and his co-defendant Sandra Merritt infiltrated the National Abortion Federation’s 2014 meeting in San Francisco, where they covertly recorded conversations with abortion providers.
They also recorded conversations with abortion doctors and people who procure fetal tissue for medical research without their knowledge or consent at several restaurant meetings in 2014 and 2015.
The impetus for Daleiden’s investigative Human Capital Project sprang from a hidden camera exposé in 2000 by ABC’s “20/20” news program about the robust market for fetal tissue for medical research he watched in 2010.
The show featured Dean Alberty, a fetal tissue procurement technician-turned-whistleblower. “He talked about the way abortion procedures were being changed in order to harvest the most valuable fetal tissue,” Daleiden testified Friday. “I thought the motivation and market forces described for fresh, intact fetal body parts was disturbing.”
Daleiden said he also read congressional testimony from that same year where Alberty was a star witness.
Daleiden, already working as a researcher for anti-abortion advocacy group Live Action, said he was stunned there was no new media coverage of the issue 10 years later. That’s when he decided to launch his own undercover investigation, leaving his job at Live Action and forming the Center for Medical Progress in 2013.
According to Daleiden, he was engaging in undercover citizen journalism and that California’s invasion of privacy laws do not prohibit someone from taping a confidential conversation in order to gather evidence of violent felonies.
Daleiden said he believed abortion doctors were changing their procedures in ways that harmed their patients to collect the most viable tissue samples. He also said he consulted with multiple attorneys about his endeavor.
His lawyers played several clips of O’Donnell’s video interview with Daleiden, titled “Holly’s Sizzle Reel,” in court Friday, as evidence of Daleiden’s state of mind when he made his surreptitious recordings.
But Hite would not admit the video into evidence, saying it appeared to be heavily edited, though he allowed Daleiden’s attorneys to question him about it.
Daleiden said this was because O’Donnell wanted to “appear professional” in case it appeared in a news story.
Deputy Attorney General Johnette Jauron objected. “He’s producing this for the news media. It’s not for his state of mind, it’s a product,” she said.
Hite said, “I’m not admitting it based on how it was produced. I have authentication issues with it.”
Daleiden’s attorneys have also argued that the 2014 National Abortion Federation conference was not as secure as portrayed, and that Daleiden and Merritt recorded the victims in the case in a public exhibition hall where anyone could overhear their conversations.
Daleiden said in 2013, Merritt met two federation representatives at a reproductive health conference in Boston, where she pretended to be the CEO of BioMax alongside another investigator posing as her employee.
“They told them NAF would be holding its annual meeting in 2014 in San Francisco and invited them to attend as exhibitors,” Daleiden said under questioning from his attorney Brentford Ferreira.
“They didn’t ask your agents to produce any documentation or proof of what BioMax did?” Ferreira asked.
“No, they did not,” Daleiden answered.
As the May 2014 conference date drew closer, the federation sent Daleiden, again posing as a BioMax employee, a full exhibitors’ prospectus. Daleiden said that based on this document, he believed he had “explicit authorization” to film inside the exhibition space located in a ballroom at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.
Ferreira asked, “Did you see anyone checking badges inside the exhibitors’ space?”
“No,” Daleiden said.
Daleiden’s testimony continues Monday.