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Doctored Anti-Abortion Videos Barred as Evidence at SCOTUS

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge refused Friday to let an anti-abortion group submit court-sealed videos as evidence in a U.S. Supreme Court case over state abortion regulations.

David Daleiden's Center for Medical Progress asked to use the recordings, locked down by a restraining order, to try to show that new regulations in Texas won't close down nearly all of the state's abortion clinics, as pro-choice advocates claim.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in March on Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, a challenge to Texas House Bill 2, which could affect the legality of clinic regulations in states across the nation.

Since the law was passed in 2013, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has declined from 42 to 19. If the Supreme Court upholds the law, the number would drop to nine or 10 in the nation's second most populous state, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III placed the secretly made recordings under a temporary restraining order in July last year after the National Abortion Federation sued the center for posing as a fake biomedical company to infiltrate and secretly record its meetings.

In its Jan. 22 motion to modify the restraining order, the center cited a recording from the Federation's 2014 annual meeting in which an independent clinic owner allegedly described Planned Parenthood's business model as one where "clinics are opened absent patient need."

The center claimed it was "uniquely qualified" to file an amicus brief because of its "depth of knowledge" on abortion gained through its "investigative journalism venture," known as the Human Capital Project.

As part of that project, the center released a series of videos last year purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue for profit. The casual manner in which one Planned Parenthood employee discussed transferring fetal tissue over lunch caused a public relations nightmare for Planned Parenthood. However, an independent study found four of the videos were deceptively edited to imply wrongdoing, and no videos showed any abortion providers sold fetal tissue for profit, as alleged. A Houston grand jury impaneled to investigate Planned Parenthood instead indicted Daleiden and his group last month for falsifying government records to get into the Planned Parenthood clinic.

In his Jan. 29 ruling , Orrick found the center clearly had other sources of information it could cite to counter positions taken by pro-choice advocates in the Supreme Court case.

"In short, it is not necessary to defendants' advocacy in the Supreme Court to use the snippets they have identified," Orrick wrote.

The judge also found the need to use that information does not outweigh the federation's members' privacy interests, or the legality of confidentiality agreements signed to gain access to the meetings.

The center argued that four people identified in the recordings are known as pro-choice supporters, making their identities less of a significant privacy concern.

But Orrick found that those people's public support for abortion rights does not mean they expected comments they made at closed, private meetings would be made public.

"That is especially true given the allegations - which will be addressed shortly in the ruling on the motion for a preliminary injunction - that defendants' videos released as part of their Human Capital Project have been selectively edited to mischaracterize comments made by the identified speakers and, as a result, those speakers have been harassed and threatened," Orrick wrote in this 3-page ruling.

City attorneys from cities in eight states in January submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, arguing that upholding the Texas abortion law would deny millions of women across the United States "timely access to vital reproductive healthcare."

The Texas law requires doctors who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. It also requires the clinics to meet stricter building standards, similar to those of hospitals.

The deadline to submit amicus briefs for the Whole Woman's Health v. Cole case is Feb. 3. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on March 2, and a ruling is expected in June.

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