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SCOTUS Declines to Hear Appeal From Pro-Life Group That Secretly Filmed Abortion Workers

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a pro-life group that was found guilty by a jury of illegally recording Planned Parenthood workers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the majority of the damages awarded to Planned Parenthood in its lawsuit against the California-based Center for Medical Progress and its founder, David Daleiden, in 2022, and the Supreme Court has now rejected that appeal.

In 2015, the pro-life group first gained notoriety after it released online secretly recorded conversations with doctors and staff from Planned Parenthood. The video showed abortion provider executives haggling over the price of fetal body parts, which sparked backlash and investigations at the federal and state levels.

The Center for Medical Progress fabricated a company and people to use in their scheme to obtain and release the footage. In a lawsuit filed in 2016, Planned Parenthood claimed that the defendants’ actions amounted to racketeering, trespassing, and breach of contract, The Epoch Times reported.

After waiting three years, a jury ruled in favor of the abortion clinic, ruling that the pro-life organization had also broken the Federal Wiretap Act. The appeals court reversed less than $100,000 of the original $2.4 million in damages (plus $13 million in attorneys’ fees) because of this ruling’s invalidity.

Before the 9th Circuit, the Center for Medical Progress argued that its journalism practices were shielded by the First Amendment. The court of appeals, however, ruled unanimously against them, saying, “Invoking journalism and the First Amendment does not shield individuals from liability for violations of laws applicable to all members of society.”

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The pro-life organization argued (pdf) in its petition to the Supreme Court that even though Planned Parenthood did not sue for defamation, the court should not have loosened its previous restrictions on the damages public figures may recover in relation to published speech.

The Center for Medical Progress justified its methods by citing an undercover investigation by Chris Wallace and ABC News’ “20/20.”

“Using a fictitious name and fake credentials, ABC journalists met with fetal tissue vendors in the abortion industry,” the group noted. “Their three-month investigation revealed a host of illegal and unethical practices in the industry related to the sale of tissue from aborted babies.”

“At the time—when it was not the focus of the investigation—Planned Parenthood praised ABC’s report and condemned the abortion provider who was its target,” the filing adds. “Gloria Feldt, then the president of Planned Parenthood, publicly stated, ‘Where there is wrongdoing, it should be prosecuted and the people who are doing that kind of thing should be brought to justice.’”

The Center for Medical Progress claims that Daleiden “nearly identically” replicated the ABC’s investigation in his own work.

The organization also claimed that Planned Parenthood had “euphemistically” labeled its losses as “infiltration” and “security damages” to avoid having to prove that the published speech in question was false, as would be required in a defamation case.

The decision by CMP to release videos outlining the findings of its investigation is at the center of the list of complaints included in the complaint. Thus, although PPFA “failed to file a defamation claim,” it sought significant “damages” to reimburse it for expenses it voluntarily incurred to prevent similar investigative reports by others and to address the public’s perceived response to the video.

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The Center for Medical Progress argued that the Supreme Court should resolve the conflicting circuit court rulings on whether the First Amendment provides protection in such cases.

As part of a smear campaign against the abortion provider, the Center for Medical Progress released videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted babies for profit.

On the first day of its 2024 term, which will last until June, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the case. The court’s docket for the next few months includes potential rulings on issues like abortion access, redistricting in South Carolina, the power of federal agencies, and the right to bear arms.

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