Planned Parenthood’s California affiliate filed a civil lawsuit Thursday against the people behind the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group who made a series of undercover videos targeting PP. The lawsuit accuses the CMP and its officers of violating federal racketeering laws, as well as both federal and state laws against invasion of privacy and trespassing.
In a conference call with reporters, PPFA announced that it has filed suit against the CMP, as well as its founder, David Daleiden, Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, a CMP board member, and Albin Rhomberg, another board member. They also filed suit against “BioMax Procurement Services,” the fictitious tissue procurement company created by the CMP, and whose representatives met with Planned Parenthood employees—and secretly taped them—under the guise of wanting to partner with the organization.
Also named in the suit are three people who haven’t been publicly identified before, all of whom passed themselves off as Biomax employees. They are Susan Merritt, who operated under the alias Susan Tannenbaum, as well as two men going by the alises Philip Cronen and Gerardo Adrian Lopez. (Planned Parenthood doesn’t appear to know either man’s real name.)
“Today, Planned Parenthood is going on the offensive against those who would shut our doors,” Kathy Kneer, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood’s California affiliate told reporters on the press call. The lawsuit, she added, was filed to expose “an elaborate and illegal conspiracy mounted by a network of anti-abortion activists to accuse us of illegal activity.”
According to Amy Bomse, a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter, which is representing Planned Parenthood, the suit uses the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to accuse the CMP of being an organized criminal enterprise. (The RICO Act was originally passed to combat the Mafia.)
Separately, Bomse said, the suit accuses the CMP and its officers of invasion of privacy and secret taping, which is illegal under several federal and state statutes. Bomse says that when the CMP fraudulently gained access to private Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation Meetings by pretending to work for Biomax, they then engaged PP staff “in private convesations they secretly and illegally recorded, “ a violation of law in California, Maryland, and Florida, where the conferences took place, as well as the federal laws against “secret taping with an unlawful purpose.”
The Center for Medical Progress is also being sued in state court by StemExpress, the tissue procurement company who the CMP accused of taking blood and tissue samples without patient consent. And they’re being sued in the same federal court by the National Abortion Federation, which won a temporary injunction and restraining order preventing the CMP from releasing some footage recorded at NAF meetings.
The lawsuit isn’t seeking a specific dollar amount, but if it’s successful, it could prove quite expensive for the CMP: it asks for asking for compensatory damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, and “triple damages,” allowed under California law and the RICO Act. PP is also seeking a permanent order preventing the CMP from entering PP’s facilities under false pretenses or recording private conversations without consent.
Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the CMP and its officers “a network of anti-abortion extremists.”
“They lied about who they were,” she said. “They lied about what they wanted to discuss with Planned Parenthood. They lied about the federal law governing fetal tissue, and they lied about what Planned Parenthood did. But the truth has come out. Planned Parenthood never sold fetal tissue or facilitated fetal donation to a make a profit. Accusations that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue to make a profit are absolutely untrue.”
No criminal charges have been filed against Daleiden or anyone else affiliated with the CMP. Planned Parenthood’s attorneys said today without elaborating that they believe prosecutors are “looking at” any potential violations of criminal law. PP’s representatives also said today that they have “heard through the rumor mill” that the CMP plans to release additional videos.
Daleiden speaking to CNN in August 2015. Screenshot via YouTube/Center for Medical Progress