Health & Science

Houston’s Planned Parenthood Joins Federal Lawsuit Against Group That Made Videos

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Houston and Colorado joined the ongoing civil lawsuit filed in January over undercover videos made by anti-abortion activists

The national umbrella group for Planned Parenthood filed the federal lawsuit back in January, along with seven local affiliates in California. Although Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston was also targeted by the videographers in 2015, it couldn't join the lawsuit until now.

Rochelle Tafolla, a vice president, explained that gathering the necessary materials took some time.

"We here in Houston have been dealing with the aftermath," Tafolla said.

"We have had many investigations and political attacks that stemmed from these videos, and we have been taking care of that and also, frankly, taking care of our patients," she added.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in San Francisco, accuses six individual activists of various crimes including trespass and invasion of privacy, because they entered the clinics using fake names.

The group began releasing video footage last summer, focusing on Planned Parenthood's role in fetal tissue research. Houston's affiliate has not participated in such research since 2011, but was visited by two members of the group on April 9, 2015. They posed as officials with a fake research company called BioMax Procurement Services.

The lawsuit also makes use of the federal RICO statute, which was originally drawn up to combat organized crime. But RICO has also been used against other types of groups engaged in conspiracy.

Tafolla explained that the videographers likewise engaged in an extensive, years-long conspiracy.

"The RICO law is about corrupt organizations, it's about individuals who are coming together to actively come up with a scheme and break laws," she said.

"That is exactly what happened here. Mr. Daleiden was not acting alone, he had a whole host of anti-abortion activists who came together and committed many crimes in order to spread lies about Planned Parenthood."

The two activists who came to Houston, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, also face criminal charges in Harris County stemming from their visit to the Houston Planned Parenthood. It's still unclear if they will accept probation offers, or plead not guilty.

Daleiden has continuously maintained that the videos are part of a journalistic expose protected by the First Amendment. When asked for his response Thursday concerning the two new plaintiffs in the lawsuit, he emailed this comment to News 88.7:

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood’s star witness at a hearing of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives admitted under oath that Planned Parenthood’s “consent” form to harvest body parts from abortion patients is inaccurate, inappropriate, and unethical. That means Planned Parenthood’s entire baby parts scheme, including the Gulf Coast affiliate in Houston, has operated without valid patient consent all along. Ironically, Planned Parenthood’s federal RICO suit is quickly becoming a who’s-who of the most dubious Planned Parenthood affiliates.

The lawsuit asks for monetary damages, as well as an order that the anti-abortion activists will stay away from Planned Parenthood events and never record staff members again.

Tafolla explained that any restitution from the lawsuit will help pay for legal costs and financial damages resulting from the political fallout and numerous investigations by government officials.

She noted that 12 states have concluded their investigations into claims that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donation, and each one cleared the organization of any wrongdoing. Another eight states declined to investigate because there wasn't any evidence.

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