Two researchers who have been sued by Planned Parenthood for their undercover video investigation exposing the abortion industry’s baby body-parts trade have filed motions to dismiss the case under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects public figures from frivolous lawsuits aimed at chilling free speech.
On Monday, a motion on behalf of Sandra Merritt was filed in federal court in San Francisco that according to her Liberty Counsel legal team “points out the ridiculous nature of Planned Parenthood’s claims and demonstrates that Planned Parenthood’s losses were caused by its own gruesome, barbaric, unethical, and potentially unlawful practices – not by the courageous and constitutionally protected acts of a truth-teller who exposed those practices.”
An anti-SLAPP motion previously was filed on behalf of her co-investigator, David Dalieden, the founder of the Irvine, California-based Center for Medical Progress. CMP released a dozen videos last year showing Planned Parenthood doctors and managers discuss the fetal body part trade and how they could increase their profit from it.
Congress also has multiple investigations under way, including by the House Select Panel on Infant Lives, which recently released documents confirming that the abortion industry profits from the sale of body parts.
Dalieden and Merritt also are defendants in a case brought by a Texas prosecutor who has links to the abortion industry.
In the federal case in California, Planned Parenthood is seeking millions of dollars in damages from the investigators for alleged “losses.”
Liberty Counsel said Planned Parenthood “is not the first organization to sue undercover reporters for exposing dubious practices.”
“Liberty Counsel’s anti-SLAPP motion collects several such lawsuits, which were properly dismissed, and asks that Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit meet the same fate, quickly. The motion also asks for Planned Parenthood to be held responsible for the fees and costs caused by its groundless suit.”
The motion contends the claims by Planned Parenthood rise “from acts in furtherance of defendant’s exercise of her First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press” and insists Planned Parenthood “cannot demonstrate a reasonable probability of prevailing on the merits.”
Liberty Counsel argues the anti-SLAPP measures were made law to “permit the swift dismissal of precisely this type of lawsuit, i.e., ‘meritless claims that are aimed not at remedying legal cognizable harms but at chilling expression.’”
Daleiden and his fellow activists at the Center for Medical Progress set up a fake company and sent investigators with concealed video cameras to Planned Parenthood clinics.
In the first undercover video released by CMP, Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood commented on crushing babies.
“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact,” she said.
The recent revelations from the House Select Panel generated further negative publicity for Planned Parenthood.
“This barbarism degrades our nation and violates federal laws against such profiteering. We commend the Select Panel for its investigative work thus far and call on the Department of Justice to take immediate action,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List.
“The abortion industry sells baby hearts, livers, brains, hands and other organs procured by a middleman company inside their facilities at no cost or effort to the facilities themselves,” she continued. “The facility receives upfront fees that can amount to five-figure sums every month and then the procurement companies resell organs for tens of thousands more – depending on the child’s characteristics.
“Was the developing baby 18 weeks old? 24 weeks? Was the mother a smoker? What is the child’s ethnicity? All of these factors might make the heart, foot, eyeball or limbs more expensive,” she said in a statement.
Liberty Counsel said it also asked for a dismissal of the lawsuit against the investigators because the abortionists lack standing, damages or other cognizable claims.
“Merritt’s courageous undercover work as an investigative journalist exposed Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices of harvesting organs from babies and selling them for profit. The videos she helped to produce stirred the conscience of America and led to the defunding of Planned Parenthood in more than 10 states,” the organization said.
Planned Parenthood has sued for loss of taxpayer funding and $10 million to $16 million in other losses.
Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, said Merritt “has bravely stood up to a heavily funded corporation and exposed the truth of their brutal practices. She should be rewarded, not punished by our legal system.”
Harry Mihet, chief litigation counsel for Liberty Counsel, said Merritt “is not intimidated by Planned Parenthood’s bullies.”
“Their efforts to hide the truth and chill free speech will fail.”
In other case developments, the Thomas More Society has filed an appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of a lower court’s order that bars Daleiden and CMP from publishing further undercover videos.
A number of the videos already have been released to the public.
The appeal brief contends a gag order such as that imposed by the lower court is a “blatantly unconstitutional ‘prior restraint’ on free speech.”
“The appeal brief also argues that release of undercover video of significant (if not paramount) public interest should not be suppressed, in order to protect the public’s right to know – a critical element of our professed democratic self-governance as an open and free society. Indeed, the United States Congress, numerous state legislators, and criminal investigators have subpoenaed and relied on Daleiden’s video releases to instigate hearings, new legal and regulatory initiatives, defunding measures, and also possible civil and criminal enforcement actions against the abortion industry. Congress itself had subpoenaed the suppressed videos and the lower court upheld that subpoena, which in turn led to a public hearing by the House Select Committee on Infant Lives, held last week,” the organization said.
Thomas More Society President Tom Brejcha said the National Abortion Federation is “working in tandem with Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and promoters to suppress David Daleiden’s First Amendment rights and to shut down the resulting investigations focused on the abortion groups’ involvement in baby parts trafficking.”
It was U.S. District Judge William Orrick who imposed the gag order.
Further, a filing from Life Legal Defense Foundation included a motion to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s case against Daleiden and a motion to quash the subpoenas from the abortion industry leader.
LLDF chief Alexandra Snyder noted the large number of organizations filing briefs in support of the investigation into abortion.
“We find the free speech arguments provided by 11 of the nation’s leading constitutional experts to be particularly compelling,” Snyder said. “With each day that goes by, the judge’s ruling erodes our First Amendment protections by impeding the free flow of information. Apart from Daleiden’s undercover videos, the public would have no way of knowing about the abortion industry’s practice of selling the parts of aborted babies. The public clearly has a right to access this important information.”
The SBA List linked to online documents posted by the U.S. House., including copies of promotional materials promising that the baby body trade is “financially profitable.”
“Join the [blanked out] partner program that fiscally rewards clinics for contributing to the advancement of life-saving research with a solution that is easy to incorporate into your clinic practice,” the organization said.
It promises the promotion of biomedical research while “also providing a financial benefit to your clinic.”
The documentation specifically describes “financial profits” and reminds potential participants that it’s “financially profitable.”
One of the proposed “partnership agreements” between an abortion business and a body-parts purchaser provides that person “agrees to make a donation to the [abortion trade association] in the amount of U.S. $10,000 and undertake the activities listed in Appendix B.”
It continues, “For the aforementioned sum mentioned in the section marked ‘Payment for Services,’ [the trade association] commits to performing the following for one year.”
A redacted billing statement requested a payment of $9,060 for “January and February 2011 sample collections” at Stockton, Sacramento and Fresno. Another year-end statement for 2014, with identifying data blacked out, billed $42,535.