What Could the Lawsuit Against The Organization Responsible for the Controversial Planned Parenthood Videos Have on Activist Efforts?

While the lawsuit against the organization responsible for releasing the recent controversial Planned Parenthood videos attempts to prevent the further release of similar videos and the release of abortion care service providers, its affect on the larger-scale issue is unknown.

Photo by Thomas Hawk (Flickr).

On Friday, July 31, 2015, the National Abortion Federation filed a federal suit against the anti-abortion group responsible for publishing the shocking undercover Planned Parenthood videos.  These videos showed Planned Parenthood doctors and officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue and even methods by which abortions occur on an individual while unknowingly being filmed.

The videos in question sparked outrage across the nation.  Many called for defunding Planned Parenthood of any federal funds under the assumption those federal funds were going toward abortions and the sale of fetal tissues.  Some called for tighter regulations on Planned Parenthood and other organizations providing abortions.  Even still, some Americans called for the ultimate shut down of Planned Parenthood.  Many also called for investigations and legal action to be taken against the organization as a result of these videos.  Not only have these calls for action occurred, but threats against abortion care service providers have been reported, Planned Parenthood buildings have been set on fire, and other violent actions have been taking place across the country.

The controversial videos brought out much animosity against Planned Parenthood. Conversely, the controversy energized much support for the organization by those who are supporters of not necessarily abortions being provided, but its other initiatives and efforts taken.

The lawsuit was brought against the Center for Medical Progress in an attempt to prevent the continued release of similar, misleading videos…

The National Abortion Federation brought the lawsuit in a representative capacity on behalf of its constituent abortion care service providers.  The lawsuit was brought against the Center for Medical Progress (“The Center”) in an attempt to prevent the continued release of similar, misleading videos, and the release of names and contract information of members of the National Abortion Federation.

The Center is an organization claiming its goals to be monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.  The Center is concerned about contemporary bioethical issues impacting human dignity, and staunchly opposes experiments and procedures, such as abortions, that allegedly exploit a class of human beings, such as fetuses.

While The Center is the group responsible for these videos, in order to infiltrate Planned Parenthood and get access to doctors and representatives of the company, The Center created a “dummy company,” Biomax Procurement Services (“Biomax”).  The company attended National Abortion Federation conferences under the guise of “Biomax,” whose website stated they provided “tissue and specimen procurement for academic and private bioscience researchers.”  To get in the door with Planned Parenthood representatives, a Biomax representative allegedly claimed they were supporters of abortion providers, and that they wanted to discuss purchasing and harvesting “baby parts.”

This is not the first time Biomax Procurement Services has appeared.  Their efforts span from their creation in 2013 with the California Secretary of State, and their attendance with exhibitor booths at National Abortion Federation conferences.

The lawsuit filed on July 31, 2015, alleges The Center created a fake company, Biomax Procurement Services, in order to obtain a booth at national conferences of the National Abortion Federation.

The lawsuit filed on July 31, 2015, alleges The Center created a fake company, Biomax Procurement Services, in order to obtain a booth at national conferences of the National Abortion Federation.  The Biomax “representatives” signed nondisclosure agreements when attending these conferences that prevented them from recording and disclosing information they obtained while at the conferences.  The Center, through Biomax, falsified information on the application to have a booth at the conference stating they were a “biological specimen procurement” company and they conducted stem cell research.  Further allegations in the lawsuit are that the connections made at the 2014 conference led to the secretly recorded meetings, and then the “highly misleading” videos, selectively edited, and then published by The Center.

The suit further alleges the actions taken by Biomax on behalf of The Center were done in a blatant attempt to cause outrageous conspiracy and defraud The National Abortion Federation and its members, organizations that provide abortion services.  The complaint alleges the actions of The Center were made in an attempt to intimidate and harass abortion care service providers, and effectively attempt to “end access to reproductive health services” in the United States.

The lawsuit alleges multiple causes of action including racketeering, civil conspiracy, fraudulent misrepresentation, invasion of privacy, false light publicity, breach of contract, and trespass.  The lawsuit seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction barring further publication of confidential recordings, dates, locations of future meetings of the National Abortion Federation, as well as names and addresses of National Abortion Federation members, and other such information.

On August 3, 2015, Judge William Orrick III, stayed the restraining order blocking The Center from releasing more videos taken at the conference.

The United States District Judge, William Orrick III, granted a three-day temporary restraining order against The Center preventing them from releasing more videos or contact information.  On August 3, 2015, Judge William Orrick III, stayed the restraining order blocking The Center from releasing more videos taken at the conference.  Similarly, on July 28, 2015, a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles ordered The Center to not publish footage from a lunch meeting with leaders of Stem Press, a company providing fetal tissue to researchers. The action is still pending.

The Center claims they have a First Amendment right to free speech, including their ability to produce these videos.  The Center claims the National Abortion Federation to be a criminal organization.

Would success of this lawsuit matter?

Would success of this lawsuit matter?  Some videos have been released, and the public outrage has caught the attention of Congressmen and women who have been awaiting such a mishap as this in order to provide backing for defunding Planned Parenthood, or at least re-considering the national abortion debate.   However, what has not occurred is success in defunding Planned Parenthood, or success in shutting down of abortion care services.  While the public outrage is there, a federal investigation into the practices of abortion care service providers, such as Planned Parenthood, also has not occurred.

This begs the question that was asked above, about whether any sort of success of this lawsuit would even help the situation.  Preventing the continued release of these videos and provider contact information obtained in such a dishonest and fraudulent manner certainly would help the National Abortion Federation’s cause in preventing their constituents from being targeted by extremist groups.  Keeping this information from being released would certainly prevent many providers form being targeted, attacked, and the subject of violence.

The idea that Planned Parenthood and other abortion care service providers are selling fetal tissues for monetary gain, regardless of whether they are incorrect or misleading, has been engrained in the minds of many Americans.

However, some videos have been released.  The idea that Planned Parenthood and other abortion care service providers are selling fetal tissues for monetary gain, regardless of whether they are incorrect or misleading, has been engrained in the minds of many Americans.  These are the same people who are calling their Congressmen and women urging them to do something about this, urging them to stop abortions, and urging them to investigate.

The match has been lit at this point, and even if the lawsuit is successful, all it will do is accomplish the goal of the lawsuit in preventing harm to the members of the National Abortion Federation.  What the success of this lawsuit will not do is prevent people from still talking about the videos or about the idea that aborted fetal tissue is being sold by abortion providers.

Proponents of the recent legislation want Planned Parenthood defunded because of the risk that federal money is going toward abortions and the sale of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses.

While Planned Parenthood is not the only abortion care service provider, they are the organization at the focus of everyone’s concerns and attacks based on the videos.  Many Americans are concerned with the status of Senate Bill, S. 1881, and House Bill, H.R. 3134, and whether Planned Parenthood will be defunded after the release of these videos.  Proponents of the recent legislation want Planned Parenthood defunded because of the risk that federal money is going toward abortions and the sale of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses.

Those opposed to the efforts desire for Planned Parenthood to remain funded partially from federal funds because of the other positive efforts and actions taken by Planned Parenthood.  Planned parenthood provides cancer screenings, safe sex initiatives, and support to those not only expecting children, but those who need medical assistance for sexually transmitted disease testing, and other such needs.

The ultimate question many are asking is, what will happen to this bill?  The Senate Bill, titled, “A bill to prohibit Federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America,” was presented in the Senate on July 28, 2015.  On August 3, 2015, the bill was voted on by the Senate to proceed in invoking the bill.  The vote was 53 “yea” votes, and 46 “nay” votes.  The Senate did not get enough votes to push the bill forward, and as a result, it did not pass the Senate.  There have been no further actions on the bill in the Senate.

The House Bill, titled, “Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015,” was presented in the House of Representatives on July 21, 2015. It was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and was then referred to the Subcommittee on Health.  No further action has been taken on the bill in the House.

While the videos have sparked much public outrage, selling fetal tissue is not illegal.

While Congress has certainly taken action after the release of these videos, are the efforts of the passionate anti-abortion and anti-sale of fetal tissue activists wrongly placed?  Should the activists be focusing their attention on defunding Planned Parenthood, or should they be focused elsewhere?  While the videos have sparked much public outrage, selling fetal tissue is not illegal.  The relevant statutes are 42 U.S.C. § 274(e) and 42 U.S.C. § 289(g).

The statute, 42 U.S.C. § 274(e), states it is impermissible for anyone to knowingly receive or purchase human organs, including those from a fetus, for valuable consideration for the purpose of human transplantation.  This law does not state that selling fetal tissue for research purposes is illegal, but only clarifies that if the sell of fetal tissue it is for the purpose of transplanting said tissue into a human being, that act is illegal.

Similarly, 42 U.S.C. § 289(g) states that it is illegal for anyone to knowingly acquire or purchase any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration, or for the purpose of human transplantation, if the transfer affects interstate commerce.  This means that it is illegal for an entity such as Planned Parenthood to generate income or funds from the purchase or selling of the fetal tissue.  “Valuable consideration” does not include reasonable payments associated with the transplantation, preservation, or storage of the tissue.

Similarly, this statute is intended to control the selling of tissue, not the use of or donation of fetal tissue for the purpose of research.  It is also illegal for an entity involved in interstate commerce to knowingly acquire or accept a donation of fetal tissue knowing the pregnancy was deliberately initiated to provide the tissue, or to knowingly acquire the tissue or cells of a human fetus gestated in the uterus of a nonhuman animal.

Should activists focus on defunding Planned Parenthood or on revising these statutes and calling for a ban on the sale or donation of fetal tissue from aborted fetuses?  It appears defunding Planned Parenthood would only do one thing: prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds.  It does not appear the goal of these activists is accomplished by defunding Planned Parenthood when the laws stay the same. Similarly, while the National Abortion Federation’s lawsuit against The Center will prevent the release of information and further videos obtained through contacts made by “Biomax representatives,” it is unclear whether the success of the lawsuit will put an end to this activist effort to stop the sale and donation of fetal tissues.  That being said, it appears the goals of both of these opposing efforts may only be one step for each group in a larger matter.

Regan Gatlin, Ethics Editor
About Regan Gatlin, Ethics Editor (42 Articles)
Regan Gatlin is a 2016 graduate and served as the Ethics Editor for the Campbell Law Observer for the 2015-2016 academic year. Regan graduated from North Carolina State University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology. Regan has previously clerked for the Insurance Section of the North Carolina Department of Justice, The General Counsel of The Select Group, and Safran Law Offices. During her experiences clerking, she gained civil litigation and research experience in the areas of insurance, construction law, labor and employment, and compliance. She also competed on a Campbell Law Trial Team in the Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Mock Trial Competition. Regan is from Smithfield, North Carolina.
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