The pro-life group behind a misleading video allegedly selling aborted fetal tissue has lost its appeal of Planned Parenthood’s $2.4 million judgment against them, as a federal appeals court upheld all but one jury’s findings unanimously.
A deceptively edited video made in 2016 by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress purported to show that Planned Parenthood was profiting financially from the illegal sale of fetal tissue from abortions performed on its premises. Allegations of wrongdoing were summarily denied by Planned Parenthood and were repeatedly dismissed by the Justice Department; the video has been discredited.
The video was pieced together using footage the pro-life activists secretly obtained by posing as representatives of a fake fabric supply company and attending lunch meetings and tours sites with Planned Parenthood staff. The accused activists involved used fake driver’s licenses, pseudonyms and fake business cards, as well as hidden cameras.
After the making of the video was investigated by law enforcement, the Center for Medical Progress founder and pro-life activist David Daleiden faced charges in Texas and California for his alleged role in the incident.
Planned Parenthood sued the Center for Medical Progress and those involved, and after a six-week trial, the defendants were found guilty of trespassing, fraud, conspiracy, breach of contract, illegal and fraudulent business practices. , violating civil RICO, and violating various federal and state wiretapping laws. Planned Parenthood was awarded $2.4 million in statutory, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
The defendants appealed the verdict, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld nearly all of the lower court’s rulings on Friday. The appeals court reversed the jury’s verdict only on the Federal Wiretap Act claim and related damages.
American circuit judge Ronald Gould (a bill clinton named) wrote for the Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel, rejecting the activists’ argument that their wrongdoing was protected First Amendment activity. Gould wrote that the right to free speech is an insufficient justification for unlawful conduct. Chief Judge Mary H. Murguia and U.S. District Judge (sitting by designation) Nancy D. Freudenthal (both barack obama named), made up the rest of the panel:
From the outset of their scheme, the appellants engaged in unlawful behavior – including forging signatures, creating and obtaining false driver’s licenses and breaching contracts – which the jury found so reprehensible that they awarded punitive damages to Planned Parenthood. Journalism and investigative reporting have long played a vital role in our society. But journalism and investigative reporting do not require illegal conduct. In upholding Planned Parenthood’s compensatory damages as a result of the appellants’ First Amendment challenge, we are simply reaffirming the established principle that the prosecution of journalism does not give license to violate laws of general application.
The panel noted that given the wrongdoings of activists, Planned Parenthood could have recovered even if there had never been a release of the secretly recorded videos.
The only part the panel chose to strike out — the Federal Wiretap Act claim — accounted for less than $100,000 of the $2.4 million in damages assessed by the trial court. The panel concluded that under the law, recording by a party to a conversation is permitted. This part of the verdict amounted to less than $100,000 in damages.
In a statement posted online, the Center for Medical Progress responded to the Ninth Circuit’s decision by doubling down:
A Ninth Circuit panel ruled with this ruling today that protecting the barbaric practices of partial-birth abortion and trafficking of aborted fetuses from Planned Parenthood for government-sponsored experiments is more important than protecting human rights. First Amendment from journalists and the public. To do this, the panel had to contradict its own precedents for undercover reporting on any other subject, ignore other circuits bench findings of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, and bless the growing militarization of the justice system against pro-life speech. The course of history is turning against the panel’s outdated pro-abortion exceptionalism, and we will appeal until the constitutional rights of journalists and the public prevail.
Planned Parenthood said in a statement that it was “delighted” with the appeals court’s decision:
[Image via Eric Kayne/Getty Images]
We are delighted with today’s decision. In 2019, a jury – with all the facts fully presented to it – determined that David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress intentionally broke the law during a multi-year campaign to advance their anti-abortion agenda and prevent Planned Parenthood from serving the patients who depend on us. Daleiden was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages as a result. Today, the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals upheld those rulings, once again clarifying that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing were those behind this malicious fraud. It was never about monetary gain; it was to expose the fraudulent and illegal actions of Daleiden and those who conspired with him, and to ensure that Planned Parenthood providers can continue to serve the 2.1 million patients who rely on them for high quality health care every year.
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