Judge Bars Abortion Foes From Planned Parenthood Conferences

The anti-abortion activist David Daleiden was charged with invasion of privacy for filming attendees at National Abortion Federation conferences in California.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge on Wednesday barred anti-abortion activist David Daleiden and his associates from ever entering another Planned Parenthood conference.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick’s order follows a jury’s verdict this past November in favor of Planned Parenthood. 

Jurors found Daleiden, fellow activist Sandra Merritt, his anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress, and two other collaborators violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and conspired to violate state laws in Maryland, California and Florida against fraud, breach of exhibitor agreements, trespassing and clandestine recording.

Daleiden and Merritt attended abortion industry conferences from 2013 to 2015 — where they posed as exhibitors from a phony human tissue procurement company in order to secretly record conversations with abortion providers that were later posted online.

They claimed they were acting as undercover journalists seeking to expose abortionists profiting from selling fetal tissue for medical research, and thereby increase public and legislative support for defunding Planned Parenthood.

The jury awarded Planned Parenthood $870,000 in punitive damages. Because that amount was tripled under the federal racketeering law, the award combined with compensatory damages totaled more than $2 million. 

Orrick’s latest ruling settles the previously unresolved issue of whether Planned Parenthood and its affiliates are entitled to an injunction. 

Planned Parenthood sought a broad order forbidding Daleiden and his cohort from entering a Planned Parenthood office, health center or conference, or attempting to enter under disguise, as well as preventing them from making any more secret recordings of Planned Parenthood staff. They also sought to extend the order to anyone else who might act in concert with the defendants. 

Daleiden and his co-defendants objected, arguing that such an order would obstruct future journalistic efforts.

But they failed to convince Orrick, who wrote, “Simply claiming the mantel of a journalist does not give someone a license to trespass, illegally record, or otherwise commit violations of generally applicable laws. The ‘evidence’ defendants actually gathered and then published as a result of the conduct the jury found was illegal did not itself show any illegal conduct by Planned Parenthood or plaintiff affiliates.”

He noted Planned Parenthood has had to tighten security around its conferences and offices because of the activists’ intrusions.

“We are pleased that the court has prohibited the defendants from engaging in this sort of future illegal conduct. This will hopefully dissuade them from further harming Planned Parenthood’s dedicated doctors and staff,” said Rhonda Trotter, one of the lead attorneys from Arnold & Porter who represented Planned Parenthood. 

Still, Orrick found the injunction needed narrowing, as Planned Parenthood’s proposal would have blocked Daleiden and his group from accessing public areas.

“I conclude that the injunctive relief to which plaintiffs are entitled extends only to that conduct for which the defendants have been found guilty,” Orrick wrote. “Plaintiffs are not wrong to fear that defendants will take advantage of any ambiguity in the terms of an injunction to disrupt their work and mission. However, a narrower injunction is feasible and necessary to avoid tipping the hardships away from plaintiffs and towards defendants. The injunction does not interfere in any way with legal efforts of the defendants to oppose abortion and convince the public and governmental actors to defund Planned Parenthood.”

Orrick’s narrowed injunction bars defendants from entering a Planned Parenthood Federation of America conference or office or trying to record but is limited to “restricted areas,” defined as “areas not open to the general public at the time of the recording, for example areas requiring registration or an appointment to access.”

Attorney Harmeet Dhillon of Dhillon Law Group, who represented the Center for Medical Progress, said “we are disappointed in this judgment, as one might imagine, and respectfully disagree vehemently with some of the findings made by the court with respect to the bench trial issues (unfair business practices).”

She continued: “This judgment effects selective censorship of undercover journalism and punishment of pro-life views. Nothing in the videos censored in this lawsuit is false, and indeed Planned Parenthood abandoned its initial position of falsity at the trial.”

Dhillon called “the draconian treatment of undercover journalists” unprecedented and said the court excluded information about fetal part trafficking that “had we been able to present it to the jury, would have affected the outcome of the case.” The defendants intend to appeal the judgment, Dhillon said.

%d bloggers like this: