SCOTUS won't hear Planned Parenthood investigators' First Amendment claims

Outside 10 of the Supreme Court in Washington DC during the courts ruling in favor of legalizing gay marriage on June 26 2015 Credit Addie Mena CNA 6 26 15 The US Supreme Court building. | Addie Mena/CNA.

Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against a pro-life group that conducted undercover investigations into possible lawbreaking in the abortion industry may proceed, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal seeking to dismiss a lawsuit.

But David Daleiden, project lead at the Center for Medical Progress, was defiant.

"The biggest losers from today's decision are Planned Parenthood who now must go to trial on fabricated claims with zero facts, while their own leaders continue to incriminate and perjure themselves in video-taped depositions on a daily basis," Daleiden charged in an April 1 post on Twitter.

The lawsuit, filed in 2016, charges that the Center for Medical Progress violated federal and state laws against conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, surreptitious recording, and trespassing. It charges that the group violated California law by gaining access to its facilities through fraud, and it claims the group lied to the IRS and the state of California to secure tax-exempt status.

The Center for Medical Progress has argued that the lawsuit violated California laws barring strategic legal action that aims to silence individuals or groups, known as "anti-SLAPP" laws, the political news website The Hill reports. The appeal to the Supreme Court had argued that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals failed to defend First Amendment protections.

Two members of the center face criminal charges in California.

Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas School of Law professor and Supreme Court analyst for CNN, said the Ninth Circuit had held that Planned Parenthood's claims were strong enough to allow its lawsuit to proceed.

"By leaving that ruling intact, the justices today stayed out, at least for now, of a messy dispute over alleged mischaracterizations of Planned Parenthood's abortion-related activities," Vladeck told CNN.

In a Nov. 27 statement on the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Center for Medical Progress characterized Planned Parenthood's lawsuit as "retaliation."

"Planned Parenthood got caught selling baby parts from abortions and remains under federal investigation–so they have relentlessly attacked the whistleblower instead of coming clean and reforming," Daleiden said at the time.

Beginning in 2015, the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos allegedly demonstrating the illegal sale of body parts and fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The released videos appeared to show various Planned Parenthood and StemExpress executives discussing, often callously, their practices for obtaining and selling fetal body parts. Daleiden alleged that Planned Parenthood was profiting from these sales, which is illegal under federal law.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., has said it abides by all relevant laws and has charged that the videos were deceptively edited. It faced a congressional investigation into the allegations related to the videos.

However, the deep political strength of Planned Parenthood appears to have blunted some of the impact of the investigations. Soon after the Center for Medical Progress videos were released, Planned Parenthood's lobbying arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, launched an emergency response campaign, with initial costs projected at $7 to $8 million in partnership with allies and funders such as the Open Society Foundations, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Democracy Alliance.

"(T)he release of these videos and the related attacks were severe and without warning," said a 2015 internal document from the Open Society Foundations, apparently acquired in a security breach and later acquired by and posted to the website "Countering this offensive requires an enormous amount of resources and staff time, which is the intent of the opposition."

The Center for Medical Progress has had to face several lawsuits seeking to halt the release of the videos. Legal charges against two of its members were dropped in Texas.

However, illegal sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies proved costly for two California bioscience companies, who reached a deal with the Orange County district attorney office.

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DV Biologics and its sister company DaVinci Biosciences acquired fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood and other sources. Sales brought in more than $1.5 million from 2013 to 2015, the Orange County Register reported.

They admitted fault, ceased California operations and met the terms of a legal settlement close to $7.8 million in value for violating state and federal laws against the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

Prosecutors began their investigation in 2015 after the Center for Medical Progress filed a complaint.

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