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Undercover Videos Of Abortion Providers: What Are The Legal Issues?

Two lawsuits were filed last week in California to stop an anti-abortion group from releasing more undercover videos about abortion providers and fetal tissue research. The Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast affiliate in Houston also says it was infiltrated by the same group — which raises legal issues unique to the state of Texas.



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The National Abortion Federation filed suit Friday against the anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress. StemExpress, a blood and tissue supplier, had already sued, obtaining a temporary restraining order to prevent any videotapes involving its company from being released.

Both suits were filed in California, where it’s illegal to record a private conversation if one of the parties to the conversation doesn’t know it’s happening.

But in Texas, only one person has to know about the recording for it to be legal.

Patricia Gray, a professor of health law at the University of Houston, cautioned that there are limits on that rule.

“Did they do it with the intent to harass, embarrass, intimidate, blackmail?” she asked. “Then Planned Parenthood might have a complaint.”

Still, proving intent in court is difficult, Gray added.

The same goes for proving libel. Law professor Peter Linzer clarified that spreading negative information about someone is not libel if the information is true.

But that wouldn’t be the case if the videos turn out to be doctored.

“If they changed it, I think that’s a libel,” Linzer said. “If they cut something of somebody saying something, and changed the meaning of that, to that person’s detriment, then I think they may have an action for libel.”

The activists with the Center for Medical Progress pretended to be biomedical researchers while visiting abortion clinics, attending abortion-related conferences, and sharing meals with abortion providers.  

In April, group members toured the Planned Parenthood building off the Gulf Freeway in Houston. Before that visit, they signed non-disclosure agreements, according to Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman.

Linzer said in that case Planned Parenthood might have a case for breach of contract.

“Usually it’s a business trying to silence a whistleblower. These people would say ‘we are whistleblowers.’ I might disagree on that.”

So far Planned Parenthood itself hasn’t taken any legal action on the videos but is defending itself in the media.

But the Center for Medical Progress says there are many more hours of undercover footage still to come.



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