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Planned Parenthood is suing the “criminal enterprise” behind those undercover videos

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Planned Parenthood is suing the people behind the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-abortion group that released a series of misleading videos this summer claiming that the women's health organization sells fetal tissue for profit.

"The people behind this fraud lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable."

The lawsuit, announced to reporters Thursday afternoon, might seem a little late, given that the first tapes were released about six months ago and the provider has taken a lot of heat since then. But it took time to do a full investigation into the "complex conspiracy" behind the videos, Laguens told reporters. "We wanted to make sure we had every bit of it right."

Planned Parenthood says the videos were the product of a three-year criminal conspiracy

Planned Parenthood isn't pulling any punches with this lawsuit. The organization is calling CMP a "criminal enterprise" and is suing under federal racketeering law (which has been used once before against anti-abortion protesters but ultimately failed at the Supreme Court). Planned Parenthood is also suing for other damages and bringing a civil action for CMP's alleged violations of state criminal codes about secret recordings.

The organization says that CMP and its officers engaged in an elaborate three-year criminal conspiracy to mislead Planned Parenthood and public officials, breaking both federal and state laws (in Maryland, Florida, and California, where the suit was filed) in the process. It also alleges:

  • CMP lied its way into private conferences hosted by Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation — using fake drivers' licenses, signing confidentiality agreements they had no intention of honoring, and illegally recording conference participants without their consent.
  • CMP's officers committed fraud against the IRS and California's Secretary of State by applying for nonprofit, tax-exempt status for "Biomax," a fictional tissue procurement company with fictional materials and credentials.
  • CMP aggressively tried to bait and entrap Planned Parenthood employees into admitting or consenting to illegal activity, complete with fake tissue procurement contracts it tried to get Planned Parenthood to sign.
  • When CMP didn't find any actual evidence of wrongdoing, it recklessly manipulated the undercover footage it got — changing the apparent meanings of conversations and omitting key evidence that Planned Parenthood wasn't actually doing anything wrong.

"Game on," CMP founder David Daleiden told BuzzFeed News in response to the lawsuit. "I look forward to taking the depositions of all the Planned Parenthood CEOs who profited off of their business relationship with StemExpress."

It's worth noting that no state or federal investigations thus far, even those led by anti-abortion officials like Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, have found evidence that Daleiden's claims about "profit" are true.

Attacks on abortion providers increased after the videos' release

As the lawsuit documents, attacks against abortion providers increased ninefold after the videos came out. There were also 849 incidents of vandalism against Planned Parenthood just in July and August of 2015. Providers featured in the CMP videos have been picketed at their homes, received death threats, and been forced to move or go into hiding.

"CMP’s reckless and dangerous actions have created a poisonous environment that fuels political attacks on access to reproductive health care and feeds threats against our health centers," said Kathy Kneer, CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, in a statement.

That "poisonous environment" arguably culminated with a deadly attack on a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in November, which killed three people and injured nine. The alleged shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, used language about "baby parts" made popular by the videos after he was taken into custody, and called himself a "warrior for the babies" in court.