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Planned Parenthood Sues Anti-Abortion Group over 'Sting' Videos

The videos purported to show employees trying to negotiate prices for aborted fetal tissue. The women's health provider says it's a lie, and a crime.

by Reuters and VICE News
Jan 15 2016, 3:24pm

Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA

Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit against an anti-abortion group that it said secretly filmed tapes that attacked and damaged the reputation of the women's health provider — and ultimately led to a Congressional inquiry into its activities and ongoing funding battles.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco claims that the Center for Medical Progress committed conspiracy and fraud in filming the "sting" videos, which purported to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to negotiate prices for aborted fetal tissue.

Under federal law, donated human fetal tissue may be used for research, but profiting from its sale is prohibited. Planned Parenthood — a women's healthcare nonprofit providing abortions, birth control, and other family planning services — denies engaging in illegal activity and says the videos were distorted and heavily edited. It also maintains tissue donation is a completely routine and legal part of medical practice.

"This case is about a network of anti-abortion extremists and the laws they broke in order to spread lies and harm Planned Parenthood," Dawn Laguens, vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said on a conference call. "This entire smear campaign is a fraud built on illegal acts and a web of lies."

The 65-page complaint alleged the group is a "complex criminal enterprise" that violated racketeering laws, set up a fake company and secured false identification to access private conferences and meetings in California, Maryland and Florida.

The complaint also accused the group of violation of privacy, fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of contract, and trespassing in connection with the video-recording campaign. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood said that they were seeking unspecified damages.

The Center for Medical Progress called the lawsuit "frivolous" in a statement.

"This last-ditch move of desperation is going to expose all of the sordid dealings of the California Planned Parenthood affiliates," the group said.

Related: Planned Parenthood Wasn't Invited To Congress' Hearings on Planned Parenthood

Since the videos were released in July, Planned Parenthood has been targeted by Republican lawmakers in Congress and several states for funding cuts.

In early December, the US Senate voted in a largely symbolic measure to defund Planned Parenthood, despite a promise from the White House that President Barack Obama would veto the bill.

The Senate vote came just a week after a shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado that left three people dead. The gunman, Robert L. Dear, reportedly made comments about "no more baby parts" following the shooting.

Though federal funding for Planned Parenthood will likely remain intact for the duration of Obama's term, many state-level Republican lawmakers, including those in Texas and Missouri, have introduced legislation to defund or limit access to abortion services at Planned Parenthood in their states.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, has ordered state officials to cut off the group's funding through the state Medicaid program, a move the organization said on Wednesday it would challenge in court.

A spokeswoman with Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri on Thursday said it was cleared after the state's Board of Healing Arts investigated allegations of fetal tissue misuse.

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