POLITICS
01/14/2016 03:56 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2016

Planned Parenthood Sues Anti-Abortion Group Behind Undercover Videos

The provider called the series of videos an "elaborate, illegal conspiracy in order to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion."

Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit in San Francisco on Thursday against the anti-abortion activists that produced a series of heavily edited, secretly recorded videos of the family planning provider's staffers talking about fetal tissue donations. 

The civil suit accuses the defendants -- the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress and a fake fetal tissue procurement company called "BioMax"-- of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and committing fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing. The accused conspirators, David Daleiden, Troy Newman and four other activists, used fake government IDs to gain entry into private medical conferences, secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood staffers, and sliced up those interviews into a series of inflammatory videos that accuse the family planning provider of selling fetal tissue for profit.

Planned Parenthood said the videos, which have been viewed by millions of people since the first one came out in July, "created a poisonous environment" that has deeply threatened the security of its employees and providers. "Planned Parenthood staff has been demonized, the providers have been threatened with death, picketed at their homes, bombarded with hate mail, and forced to move or go into hiding," Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood's California affiliates, told reporters on Thursday. 

Planned Parenthood says that it sometimes donates, but does not sell, fetal tissue for medical research. While the videos appear to show staffers negotiating the price of fetal tissue, the full, unedited footage shows the same staffers insisting that Planned Parenthood does not aim to profit from the donations, only to recover the costs of transporting and preserving the tissue after an abortion. Multiple investigations by state governments and congressional committees have turned up no evidence that Planned Parenthood violated the law. 

Nevertheless, the videos have spurred a wave of violence and hatred against Planned Parenthood. The man accused of opening fire on a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in November alluded to the videos in an interview with law enforcement, and there were four arsons at Planned Parenthood affiliates in the months after the first video was released. Republican politicians have used the videos as fuel for their yearslong campaign to defund the family planning provider, although President Barack Obama has threatened to veto Congress' efforts. 

Planned Parenthood is suing the defendants for compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys' fees. While a spokesperson for the organization says it has suffered in many ways from the undercover video campaign, she promised it will keep its doors open and continue to provide birth control, abortion services, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted infection treatments through all of its roughly 700 health centers across the country. 

“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. “We’re going on the offensive to expose this fraud for what it is and hold the people behind it accountable -- in order to prevent further harassment of our patients and staff and protect access to the preventive and reproductive health care Planned Parenthood provides to millions of people each year.”

The Center for Medical Progress released a statement Thursday calling the lawsuit "frivolous."

"Planned Parenthood is under investigation by the United States Congress and multiple law enforcement agencies, while their business is drying up and the public is turning against their barbaric abortion for baby parts trade," the statement said. "Now they are filing a frivolous lawsuit in retaliation for CMP’s First Amendment investigative journalism that has done nothing more than tell the truth about Planned Parenthood’s lawless operations."

Planned Parenthood said it's not, in fact, under investigation by any law enforcement agencies.

This article has been updated with Planned Parenthood's response to the Center for Medical Progress' claims.

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