OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge ordered Planned Parenthood and four of its affiliates to turn over a narrow range of documents related to its fetal tissue donation program in a highly acrimonious lawsuit accusing anti-abortion activists of smearing the organization.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu, who is overseeing discovery in the case, ruled that Planned Parenthood must disclose the identities of “individuals responsible for compliance with fetal tissue donation laws and regulations” at Planned Parenthood’s Mar Monte, Northern California, Los Angeles and Pacific Southwest affiliates.
“Plaintiffs have not explained how identifying the relevant individuals for those four affiliates would be burdensome or disproportionate to the needs of the case,” Ryu wrote in her Thursday order. “Concerns about the privacy or security of those individuals shall be addressed through use of the protective order.”
The dispute is the latest in a bitter, three-year legal battle between Planned Parenthood and anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, the CEO of the Center for Medical Progress. The Center infiltrated Planned Parenthood conferences by posing as a phony fetal tissue procurement company called BioMax and recorded doctors discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood says the money it spent beefing up security, responding to government investigations and addressing vandalism and arson at its clinics after the videos were posted constituted an injury to its business and property as required under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act).
In a motion to compel, CMP sought to force the organization to release a broad range of documents that would show it profited from selling aborted fetal tissue.
Ryu’s order also requires Planned Parenthood to turn over advertisements by fetal tissue procurers like StemExpress, as well as manuals on its policies related to the use of digoxin or other feticides, mechanical vacuum aspiration and their compliance with the partial-birth abortion ban.
CMP and Daleiden have argued they should be allowed to show that Planned Parenthood violated the law to make as much money as possible from selling fetal tissue, saying that they learned through their investigation that “intact fetal cadavers are more valuable,” and “an analysis of the total number of intact fetuses would reveal information about plaintiffs’ profit potential.”
“Defendants’ publicity campaign accused plaintiffs of obtaining and selling fetal tissue in an illegal manner. Plaintiffs allege that they have not violated the laws governing these practices. For this reason, defendants should be allowed to test that allegation to some degree. However, on this record, the court concludes that defendants have not established their entitlement to broad discovery into these topics,” Ryu wrote. “Even as narrowed, the court finds that the discovery requests in this group are overbroad and disproportionate to the needs of the case.”
Ryu limited the documents to be included in the discovery order to those produced between January 1, 2011 – two years before the alleged infiltration began – and July 15, 2015, when CMP released its first videos.
“Permitting broad discovery here would create a perverse outcome by inviting future defendants in similar cases to make broad accusations in order to justify greater access to sensitive information through the litigation process,” Ryu wrote. “Discovery in this case poses special concerns, especially given its political backdrop.”
U.S. District Judge William Orrick III denied CMP’s motion to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s case in 2016, and tossed a separate motion to strike 15 claims against it, which included charges of racketeering and violations of California law.
This past week, the Fifth Circuit overturned a ruling barring Texas from eliminating Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program based on one of CMP’s videos, finding it was “authentic and not deceptively edited.”
Daleiden said he was happy with Ryu’s order.
“Unlike Planned Parenthood ally Judge Orrick, it’s refreshing to see Judge Ryu make legal decisions based on facts and the law. Judge Ryu’s orders come shortly after a federal appeals court found that CMP’s undercover videos are accurate, authentic, and reliable evidence of criminality at Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood’s central allegation that they were ‘damaged’ by a ‘smear campaign’ is legally and factually untenable and we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate this in a court of law.”
Planned Parenthood has seven days to comply with the order. Its attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.