Attorneys representing two members of the so-called Center for Medical Progress—the deceptive organization behind the illegally recorded videos accusing Planned Parenthood of for-profit fetal tissue exchange—ignored a court-mandated gag order on the release of their illegally obtained footage of abortion providers. The previous release was met with a spike in violence towards clinic staff and doctors—including the murder of three people at a clinic featured in the videos.
After the release of that footage in 2015, a gunman opened fire on a clinic in Colorado Springs. Since then, clinics have also reported a surge of antiabortion violence and harassment, with the most frequent types being “blocking access to and invasions of clinics, stalking, death threats, and bombing threats.” To prevent further damage, courts blocked the release of any more footage or providers’ names but attorneys Steve Cooley and Brentford J. Ferreira released the information anyway, effectively putting providers’ safety and women’s reproductive healthcare at risk.
The notion of “justifiable homicide” spread by anti-abortion extremists who believe providers should be killed leaves the safety of doctors, clinic staff and patients in the hands of the judicial system who must now protect reproductive rights in an increasingly hostile environment. Organizations like CMP are resorting to tactics that harken back to days when providers lived in fear of snipers shooting into their kitchens and zealots murdering them in their churches.
The attorneys represent David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, who are facing 15 felony charges brought by California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra for taping providers without their consent. The attorney general’s office is currently amending the charges according to a request made by a superior courts judge in San Francisco on Wednesday.
That same judge denied Daleiden and Merritt’s request for dismissal and upheld the gag order on the footage. In May, Cooley and Ferreira posted the sealed footage on their official site—along with a list of providers who are featured. They included a statement accusing Planned Parenthood of “the most unethical and illegal medical practices” since the infamous Tuskegee experiment that ended in the 1970’s. The public, out-of-court statements by the lawyers fly in the face of findings in multiple courts of law. Twelve states investigated accusations against Planned Parenthood that resulted from the footage. No wrong-doing was found.
To obtain footage, Daleiden and Merritt created fake personas, printed falsified identification cards, made a sham LLC and signed confidentially agreements to gain access to meetings hosted by the National Abortion Federation (NAF). They then released their illegal footage through CMP, an organization founded by Daleiden and anti-abortion extremist Troy Newman.
The first videos Daleiden released were deceptively edited. One features a photo of a stillborn while a former stem sell procurement technician talks about an aborted fetus—an image Daleiden took from a mourning woman’s personal Facebook without her permission. In another version, Daleiden can be heard coaching the former technician throughout the interview. “You’re all like, ‘Say it like this!” the technician remarks. “‘Let me possess your body and I’ll say it for you.'”
The most recently released footage features seconds-long snippets of conversations that make it seem as though providers are discussing dismembering babies or exchanging fetal tissue. According to NAF, longer versions of the footage reveal Daleiden and Merritt trying to solicit statements about tissue procurement and pricing. Cooley and Ferreira eventually removed the video and a list of providers from their official site—but not before the anti-abortion circuit fervently spread the videos and names across the web. Those same networks continue to falsely report that all charges against the Daleiden and Merritt were dropped.
In reality, Cooley and Ferreira managed to push back the date of their original contempt trial by seeking to remove the U.S. federal judge presiding over their case because of his former affiliation with a nonprofit associated with Planned Parenthood. The move came just five days before U.S. District Judge William Orrick III had planned a hearing to decide whether to hold the defendants and their lawyers in contempt for releasing the additional videos and names.
The lawyers’ desperate tactics align well with those of anti-abortion extremists, who resort to despairing strategies because their failed attempt to paint abortion as murder—coupled with frequently anti-gay, anti-Muslim rhetoric—have pushed them to the fringes.