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Pregnancy porn promotion case draws to a close

A jury must decide whether several mothers and doulas defamed a Hawaii photographer and birth supporter when they warned others about his alleged sexually inappropriate behavior.

HONOLULU (CN) — A jury must now decide its verdict in the case of a Honolulu-based birth supporter and maternity photographer suing a group of mothers and birth industry professionals for defamation relating to their participation in a viral social media campaign that accused him preying on pregnant women and mothers.

“Social media is a two way street,” said Nadine Ando, in her closing arguments on Tuesday, speaking to the complex nature of the alleged online defamation involving Facebook groups and women across the world.

Ando, attorney for defendants Vivian Chau Best and Emilee Saldaya, said that the platform that allowed plaintiff Danny Gallagher to market and represent himself as a doula and maternity professional was the same platform that allowed women to spread the word when possible predatory behavior was brought to light.

Ando and defense co-counsel Eric Seitz both emphasized in closing statements that everything that the defendants did was to warn and protect other women. The women implicated in the suit had testified throughout the past week and half that they believed they had acted appropriately on the information they had been provided about Gallagher’s concerning behavior in doula and maternity Facebook groups.

Gallagher first filed the defamation complaint, which includes claims for libel and emotional distress, in September 2018. He claimed a laundry list of defendants — many of whom still work in the maternity and birthing industry — defamed him by engaging in social media activity that alleged he was luring women into creating pornography content based around pregnancy and lactation, and was otherwise engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior with mothers and pregnant women.

The accusations against Gallagher first arose from interactions he had in various birthworker and women’s Facebook groups, causing several women to make posts warning women in the community about his alleged predatory behavior.

Gallagher claims in his suit that the accusations made against him ruined his personal and professional reputation and cost him future employment and income.

Seitz, attorney for defendants Kate Pavlovsky and Jane Hopaki, citing Gallagher’s 2018 employment lawsuit and bankruptcy filing in his closing argument, commented that “Danny Gallagher alone is responsible for any lost income, any bad reputation,” and told the jury that there is no proof that he ever had a solid reputation or significant income that could have been destroyed by any defamatory statements in the first place.

Megan Kau, attorney for Gallagher, said that none of the women who had posted about Gallagher had ever investigated the validity of the accusations, alleging that the evidence of Gallagher’s misconduct boiled down to out of context screenshots of direct messages between him and various women, and his most provocative statements were cherry-picked.

“What they did, what they said, what they posted is not true. What they relied on was not true,” Kau said.  

Kau also drew attention throughout the trial and in her closing arguments to references within several online posts that declared Gallagher was a “predatory pimp” and a “broker” of women. She argued that Gallagher was not by definition either of those things, as he had never arranged for women to perform sex work for his benefit. Kau heatedly said that the defendants hadn’t merely called him a liar for his misrepresentations about his qualifications as a doula or simply described unpleasant experiences with him, but had deliberately labeled him a sexual predator.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi and the jury, comprised of four men and three women, heard the closing arguments Tuesday. The jury will reconvene Wednesday morning to continue deliberations and will also deliberate on pro se defendants Stephanie Byers and Bethany Kirillov, neither of whom were present for proceedings.

Judge Kobayashi also granted a motion for judgment to Anne Wallen, head of the doula group MaternityWise and another named defendant, on Tuesday. The remaining claim against Wallen, also known as Anne Croudace, was that she had merely liked one of the allegedly defamatory posts on Facebook.

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