The Corner

Law & the Courts

Undercover Pro-Life Activists Are Punished for Exposing Planned Parenthood

Sign on a Planned Parenthood building in New York in 2015 (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

A jury in San Francisco district court has found pro-life activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of contract, and trespass and violation of state and federal recording laws. Daleiden, Merritt, and their Center for Medical Progress obtained undercover footage of abortion-industry workers, including from Planned Parenthood, discussing arrangements to illegally profit from the fetal body parts of aborted babies.

One can easily imagine the outcry if undercover activists were similarly punished for exposing, say, the routine mistreatment of animals.

The videos — the first of which CMP released in the summer of 2015 — showed all sorts of horrifying things. Planned Parenthood medical directors haggling over prices for fetal body parts over a lunch of salad and wine, another joking about upping the cost for certain organs so she could afford a Lamborghini. Abortionists admitting to altering late-term abortion procedures (which is illegal) in order to improve their odds of obtaining intact, and thus more valuable, fetal body parts. Industry workers conceding they had contracts to sell fetal tissue and describing in graphic detail their efforts to conduct post-viability abortions without violating the ban on partial-birth abortion. A former clinic worker saying she had been tasked with harvesting organs from an infant whose heart was still beating.

All of this was evidence not only of cavalierly dehumanizing behavior in the abortion industry, but more specifically that several Planned Parenthood affiliates had arranged to receive a profit from biotech firms for the transfer of fetal tissue from aborted babies, including when they hadn’t properly obtained the informed consent of the pregnant women involved.

The response from Planned Parenthood and its defenders to this incriminating footage was immediate and monotonous: The videos were deceptively edited propaganda. The group’s allies, including in the media, have repeated this talking point ad nauseam for years now, despite the fact that independent reviews of the footage found that edits were made only for brevity, and none distorted the substance of the conversations recorded — a fact that was affirmed just this January in a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Recall, too, that separate investigations by both a select panel in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed enough of the CMP footage that both committees referred several Planned Parenthood affiliates, and the biotech firms and research institutions they partnered with, to the FBI and the Department of Justice for further investigation.

Nevertheless, the only people who have yet to be punished in connection with the videos are Daleiden and Merritt, the individuals who exposed fairly obvious wrongdoing. They plan to appeal the decision, and there remains hope that justice will be restored. But this latest round of controversy has been a harsh reminder for pro-life Americans.

Our culture is so accustomed to the violence of abortion that many people see Daleiden and Merritt as the criminals, instead of rightly recognizing the evil on display in their videos and demanding that such evil be treated as a crime. At the same time, this story has since 2015 hardly managed to garner more than a ripple of media coverage, and the coverage it has received has been almost entirely slanted in favor of Planned Parenthood’s preferred talking points.

This blackout is perhaps understandable in a society determined to turn a blind eye to the fundamental questions of our abortion debate. The CMP videos punctured the euphemisms we like to use when we talk about abortion; these callous discussions of collecting fetal organs don’t sound much like what we picture when we hear about “a woman’s right to choose.”

That’s why these videos have been so little discussed and why abortion-rights supporters have worked so tirelessly to undermine and silence the videos’ contents and creators. Regardless of whether the abortion-industry executives on film indeed broke the law, no one, not even Planned Parenthood, denies that abortion providers routinely possess fetal tissue. Where do those body parts come from? To whom do they belong?

This fight over the CMP videos is not just about the need to defend citizens who expose injustice. It is about forcing a society inured to that injustice to recognize what takes place in every abortion procedure.

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