(CN) – A federal judge in San Francisco cleared the way Friday for Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against an anti-abortion group that published selectively edited videos in 2015 that made it appear as if employees were illegally selling fetal tissue for profit.
In a 137-page ruling released late Friday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick shut down most arguments by David Daleiden and his group Center for Medical Progress to dismiss the lawsuit.
Daleiden and codefendants posed as employees of a fake biomedical company in order to access abortion providers’ meetings and conferences between 2014 and 2015. They secretly recorded videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood employees that Orrick called “deceptively edited.”
“There are distinctions between which defendants are responsible for what acts, but there is no doubt that several defendants committed fraud, breached contracts, and trespassed at the conferences and in the Planned Parenthood facilities,” Orrick wrote.
The abortion provider’s lawsuit alleges that Daleiden and his group engaged in mail and wire fraud, racketeering, trespassing and lying to the state of California and IRS to illegally obtain tax-exempt status.
Planned Parenthood said the release of the videos caused an increased number of threats to its employees and higher security costs it seeks to recover from Daleiden’s group.
Daleiden and codefendants argued that their actions were protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. In a July hearing, lead defense attorney Peter Breen said the group acted as undercover journalists trying to expose wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
“In an era where cries to defund Planned Parenthood have rung out across America, the abortion merchandiser is trying to extract its alleged millions in losses from undercover journalists publishing the truth,” Breen said during arguments.
Orrick partially agreed with the defense’s argument, but only in relation to damages sought by Planned Parenthood over increased security costs due to threats from individuals after the release of the videos.
The judge said direct acts of the defendants, “their intrusions, their misrepresentations, and their targeting and surreptitious recording of plaintiffs’ staff” are not barred by the First Amendment.
“Defendants are not immune from the damages that their intrusions into the conferences and facilities directly caused, nor from the damages caused by their direct targeting of plaintiffs’ staff, that caused plaintiffs to bear costs in the form of private security for those staff members after plaintiffs became aware of defendants’ ruse and recordings.”
Having reviewed hundreds of hours of video, Orrick previously concluded that Planned Parenthood employees were not involved in illegal sales of fetal tissue. While abortion providers are not allowed to profit from donating fetal tissue for research, they are allowed to recover the costs of collecting tissue and facilitating donations.
While Orrick in Friday’s ruling wrote that “certain issues are beyond dispute,” he said that “given the scope of the claims and the manner in which the issues were framed on this motion, even partial summary judgment is not feasible on most of those claims.”
Neither Planned Parenthood nor the Center for Medical Progress made an immediate comment Friday night.
The ruling comes after the abortion provider announced Monday it would withdraw from the government’s Title X family planning program. The Trump administration’s new rules prohibit Title X grantees from referring or providing patients with abortion services, save for cases of incest, rape or threat to the mother’s life.
Trial is set to begin Sept. 30.