Planned Parenthood of California has filed a lawsuit accusing anti-abortion activists of racketeering by manipulating secret recordings of doctors to make it appear they discussed illegally selling foetal tissue to a research company. The edited videos sparked a political firestorm when they were released last summer, and spurred Republican lawmakers to launch yet another effort to strip the group of federal funding.
The women's health care provider, which performs some 30% of all abortions in the US, is suing David Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, over a "complex criminal enterprise conceived and executed by anti-abortion extremists," according to the court documents filed in San Francisco federal district court.
"We are filing this lawsuit to hold accountable the people behind this reckless and malicious smear campaign that was designed only to spread lies about Planned Parenthood," said Kathy Kneer, the chief executive of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.
Planned Parenthood officials insist that the five videos made by the Center were deceptively edited to "smear" the organization by giving a false impression in a sting operation. Officials say the organisation does not profit from any sale of tissue from abortions to medical research; any money received simply covers the costs of tissue donations. Under federal law, donated human foetal tissue may be used for research, but profiting from its sale is illegal.
The suit charges that the defendants set up a bogus tissue procurement company and used fake corporate and personal identities to lie their way into private meetings that they illegally taped. It contends the defendants engaged in crimes including wire and mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing.
It seeks damages and a court order barring the group from entering Planned Parenthood facilities under false pretences and covertly recording the group's officials and business.
"The express aim of the enterprise, which stretched over years and involved fake companies, fake identifications, and large-scale illegal tapin, was to demonize Planned Parenthood," the lawsuit states.
Health clinics have reported an increase in threats since the videos were released. In November 2015, Robert Lewis Dear shot and killed three people in a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic because he said the organization was "murdering little babies," he later told a CBS station in Denver.
The Republican Congress voted to stop funding Planned Parenthood, but the legislation was vetoed by President Obama.
David Daleiden called the lawsuit "frivolous" and a "last-ditch move of desperation," adding: "Game on. I look forward to taking the depositions of all the Planned Parenthood CEOs."