Supreme Court Denies Appeal in High-Profile Planned Parenthood Case Against Anti-Abortion Activists

Supreme Court denies appeal from anti-abortion activists in a high-profile Planned Parenthood lawsuit. Image by Midjourney.

In a pivotal decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has opted not to hear an appeal by anti-abortion activists, led by David Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, who were ordered to pay over $2 million in damages to Planned Parenthood.

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The case stems from a controversial undercover operation in which the activists secretly recorded videos of abortion providers, alleging the illicit sale of aborted fetal tissue for profit.

The lawsuit, initiated by Planned Parenthood in 2016, accused Daleiden and his group of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and engaging in fraud, trespassing, breach of contract, and illegal secret recording.

The defendants utilized a shell company and fake identification to access Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation conferences, where they recorded staff using hidden cameras.

In 2015, the Center for Medical Progress released videos that exposed Planned Parenthood officials trafficking in aborted fetal parts, igniting a nationwide controversy and prompting congressional inquiries and state investigations.

Planned Parenthood denied profiting from fetal tissue donation for medical research, and lower courts found that the videos did not contain evidence of wrongdoing.

The case presented to the Supreme Court focused on whether Planned Parenthood, despite not suing for defamation, should have to navigate the stringent limitations that the justices have previously established on damages that public figures can recover for alleged harms related to a publication.

Daleiden and his team, portraying themselves as investigative journalists, argued that the judgment against them threatened undercover reporting, a method often used to unveil wrongdoing and corruption.

In contrast, Planned Parenthood labeled the defendants as “ideological activists” and accused them of heavily editing the videos as part of a campaign to tarnish the organization.

In the initial lawsuit, a jury sided with Planned Parenthood, and a judge awarded $2.4 million in damages, which included security costs to prevent future infiltration and targeting of doctors and staff, as well as over $13 million in attorneys’ fees and costs, which are subject to a separate appeal.

Based in San Francisco, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the award last year, concluding that the First Amendment did not protect the defendants.

The court noted, “Invoking journalism and the First Amendment does not shield individuals from liability for violations of laws applicable to all members of society.”

The decision by the justices to decline the appeal was announced on the first day of their new nine-month term, leaving Daleiden and another activist to face an upcoming criminal trial in California related to the secret recordings.

This case underscores the ongoing and heated national debate surrounding abortion rights and the tactics employed by various activist groups in their efforts to influence public opinion and policy.

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