A San Francisco district court on Friday found pro-life activists guilty in a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood after the activists surreptitiously filmed the group’s executives discussing the sale of fetal body parts.
A ten-person federal jury convicted activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of contract, and trespass and violation of state and federal recording laws in Maryland, California, and Florida. Planned Parenthood will be awarded $870,000 in punitive damages.
In 2015, Daleiden and Merritt released videos of Planned Parenthood executives, as well as footage from the 2014 National Abortion Federation conference, which they obtained while posing as researchers for a fake fetal-tissue–research company they called Biomax.
In the videos, abortion-industry players could be seen admitting to illegally altering abortion procedures in order to provide fresher, more intact fetal parts, as well as haggling with the investigators over prices. The investigators also accused Planned Parenthood of illegally profiting off the sale of fetal tissue for medical research, using their footage as evidence.
The verdict set “a dangerous precedent for citizen journalism and First Amendment civil rights across the country, sending a message that speaking truth and facts to criticize the powerful is no longer protected by our institutions,” read a statement from CMP.
Planned Parenthood has consistently denied any activities portrayed in the videos were illegal and have accused CMP of deceptively editing the footage.
“The jury has spoken loud and clear,” said Planned Parenthood attorney Rhonda Trotter after the verdict. “Those who violate the law in an effort to limit access to reproductive rights and health care will be held accountable.”
The trial made headlines in September when California obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Forrest Smith, who has administered thousands of abortions, testified on behalf of the CMP activists.
“There’s no question in my mind that at least some of these fetuses were live births,” Smith told the court while describing the abortion procedures detailed by Planned Parenthood executives in the CMP footage.