Barack Obama and John McCain had a full discussion of sexual and reproductive health issues in the final presidential debate tonight, and according to the CNN dialtests, America shares the pro-education, pro-prevention, pro-choice agenda that readers of Rewire are quite familiar with. Lots more coverage coming. Check out our Election 2008 page, Video coverage including the Reality Check Series that helps debunk right-wing myths and the Our Reality Series that share powerful personal stories on a variety of sexual and reproductive health topics.
On sex education Obama reinforced his support for comprehensive sex education and improving social support services for mothers and mothers-to-be:
But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, "We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby."
Obama cited the recent Lily Ledbetter equal pay case as an example of his diversion with McCain on the types of justices they would appoint to the Supreme Court:
I’ll just give you one quick example. Senator McCain and I disagreed recently when the Supreme Court made it more difficult for a woman named Lilly Ledbetter to press her claim for pay discrimination.
For years, she had been getting paid less than a man had been paid for doing the exact same job. And when she brought a suit, saying equal pay for equal work, the judges said, well, you know, it’s taken you too long to bring this lawsuit, even though she didn’t know about it until fairly recently.
We tried to overturn it in the Senate. I supported that effort to provide better guidance to the courts; John McCain opposed it.
I think that it’s important for judges to understand that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will. And that’s thekind of judge that I want.
One year after David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress released the first of a series of videos targeting Planned Parenthood, there is still no evidence of wrongdoing by the reproductive health-care provider.
See more of our coverage on the anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress here.
One year ago, David Daleiden released the first in a series of videos that he claimed proved Planned Parenthood employees were unlawfully profiting from fetal tissue donation and violating the federal “partial-birth abortion” ban. With the backing and counsel of Operation Rescue President Troy Newman and the help of a woman named Sandra Merritt, among others, Daleiden had created a front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).
He then disguised CMP as a legitimate biomedical research organization—despite overwhelming evidence, including CMP’s own corporate documents, to the contrary—and used it to gain access to abortion clinics and private meetings. The organization released 11 videos by the end of 2015; in a year’s time, Daleiden and CMP had released a total of 14 videos. All have been debunked as deceptively edited and misleading.
In response to CMP’s videos, more than a dozen conservative governors launched investigations into or tried to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates in their states. States like Arkansas, Kansas, and Utah had their attempts to defund the reproductive health-care centers blocked by federal court order. The Obama administration also warned states that continuing to try and strip Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood centers violated federal law, though that did not stop such efforts throughout the country.
Additionally, congressional Republicans began their own investigations and defunding efforts, holding at least five separate hearings and as many defunding votes. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) President Cecile Richards provided hours of congressional testimony on the lawful fetal tissue donation option available to some Planned Parenthood patients. Other affiliates do not offer such donation programs at all.
Not a single investigation at either the state or federal level has produced evidence of any wrongdoing. Still, many continue today. To date, Congress alone has spent almost $790,000 on the matter.
Violence Against Clinics Escalated
Just weeks after CMP released its first video, there was an act of arson at a Planned Parenthood health center in Aurora, Illinois. The following month, and after the release of three more smear videos, a car fire broke out behind a locked gate at Planned Parenthood in New Orleans. Abortion clinic staff and doctors around the country reported a significant uptick in threats of violence as Daleiden and CMP released the videos in a slow drip.
That violence spiked in November 2015, when Robert Lewis Dear Jr. was arrested for opening fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, a siege that left three dead. Dear told investigating officers his violence was “for the babies” because Planned Parenthood was “selling baby parts.” A Colorado court has so far deemed Dear incompetent to stand trial. Dear’s siege was not the last incident of clinic violence apparently inspired by Daleiden and CMP, but it has, to date, been the most lethal.
Dear’s next competency hearing is currently scheduled for Aug. 11.
A Lot of Lawsuits Got Filed
The tissue procurement company StemExpress and the National Abortion Federation (NAF) filed suits in July of last year. In January 2016, Planned Parenthood did the same, alleging that Daleiden and CMP had engaged in conspiracy and racketeering, among other things.
StemExpress Sued Daleiden and CMP
StemExpress, one company to whom Planned Parenthood was supposedly selling tissue, sued CMP, Daleiden, and Merritt in California state court. StemExpress asked the court for an injunction blocking CMP from releasing any more videos that were surreptitiously recorded at meetings the pair of anti-choice activists had with StemExpress staff. The complaint also included allegations of conspiracy, invasion of privacy, and conversion of property (based upon Daleiden’s taking confidential information from a former StemExpress employee, including accessing her StemExpress email account after she was no longer employed at the company).
Although it issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), the court ultimately declined to convert that into an injunction, citing First Amendment concerns that to do so would constitute prior restraint, or pre-publication censorship, on Daleiden and Merritt’s right to free speech. In other words, Daleiden and Merritt are free—at least under this court order—to continue releasing videos involving StemExpress employees while the suit proceeds.
The case is set for trial in January 2017.
National Abortion Federation Sued Daleiden and CMP
About the same time that CMP and Daleiden were battling StemExpress in court, NAF filed suit in federal court in San Francisco, alleging civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud, and breach of contract, among other claims. Like StemExpress, NAF sought a temporary restraining order blocking any further release of the attack videos. Judge William Orrick issued the TRO and later, after a protracted discovery battle, converted it into a preliminary injunction. Thus, CMP is prohibited from publishing any videos of footage taken at NAF’s annual meetings, which Daleiden and Merritt infiltrated in 2014 and 2015, while the suit proceeds.
As they had in their battle with StemExpress, Daleiden and CMP claimed that prohibiting publication of the videos constituted a prior restraint on speech, in violation of the First Amendment. But unlike StemExpress, which was trying to prohibit the publication of videos detailing conversations that took place in a restaurant, NAF sought to prohibit publication of video footage secretly recorded at meetings. Judge Orrick found that Daleiden had waived his First Amendment rights when he signed a confidentiality agreement at those meetings promising not to disclose any information he gained at them.
And, as in other court battles, one of the preeminent claims Daleiden and his cohorts raised to excuse his tactics—creating a fake tissue procurement company, assuming false identities through the use of false identification cards, getting people drunk in order to elicit damaging statements from them, and signing confidentiality agreements with no intention of following them—was that Daleiden is an investigative journalist.
Judge Orrick condemned this argument in strong terms: “Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to a numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project—achieved in large part from the infiltration—thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not—as Daleiden repeatedly asserts—use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques.”
In an amicus brief in the same lawsuit, submitted to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in early June, 18 of the country’s leading journalists and journalism scholars noted that “by calling himself an ‘investigative journalist,’ Appellant David Daleiden does not make it so.”
“We believe that accepting Mr. Daleiden’s claim that he merely engaged in ‘standard undercover journalism techniques’ would be both wrong and damaging to the vital role that journalism serves in our society,” the journalists and scholars continued.
Daleiden and CMP have appealed the preliminary injunction order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case currently sits pending a decision.
Planned Parenthood Sued Daleiden and CMP
Six months after StemExpress and NAF filed their lawsuits against the orchestrators of the smear campaign, PPFA filed a whopping one of its own in California federal court, alleging civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud, trespass, and breach of contract, among other civil and criminal allegations. PPFA was joined by several affiliates—including Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, where Dear was arrested for opening fire in November.
Daleiden has asked the court to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s claims. The court has so far declined to do so.
David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt Were Indicted on Felony Charges
Daleiden and his allies have not fared well in the civil lawsuits filed against them. But both Daleiden and Merritt also have pending criminal cases. After an investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast sparked by Daleiden’s claims, a Texas grand jury declined to indict the health-care organization for any criminal conduct. The grand jury instead returned an indictment against Daleiden and Merritt on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record, related to their use of false California driver’s licenses in order to gain entrance into the clinic. Daleiden was additionally charged with a misdemeanor count related to the purchase or sale of human organs.
In June, Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge Diane Bull dismissed the misdemeanor charge. Daleiden and Merritt’s attorneys, who called the dismissal a victory for the anti-choice movement, are still trying to get the felony charged dismissed.
This is the second article in a two-part series on the effect Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives is having on the research community. You can read the first piece in the series here.
The anti-choice front group that triggered Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)’s investigation into widely discredited allegations of fetal tissue trafficking first revealed the identities of researchers who have used fetal tissue in their work more than a year ago.
In May 2015, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published unredacted documents naming the researchers that are identical to those used by the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, according to a publicly available online directory discovered by Rewire. In June 2016, CMP added to its database unredacted Planned Parenthood contracts, which appeared verbatim among the documents that Blackburn sent over to the Obama administration as part of her request for a federal abortion inquiry.
CMP’s heavily edited videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations led to three congressional investigations that yielded no evidence of wrongdoing and the creation of the current panel, seemingly intent on proving otherwise. David Daleiden, the group’s leader, remains under criminal indictment in Texas for fraud in connection with his production and release of the videos. This month, Arizona became the 13th state to find no substance to his allegations.
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One of the at least 14 researchers named in the documents agreed to an interview with Rewire, some of which appeared in part one of this series, on the condition of anonymity. The researcher wasn’t aware that such a prominent anti-choice group had previously revealed the names and contact information for individuals typically found in laboratories, not abortion clinics. Neither did Eugene Gu, a second researcher that spoke with Rewire on the record. The select panel subpoenaed Gu’s company, Ganogen, Inc., in March.
Gu said that by releasing the names and delaying the redactions, Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives select panel allowed anti-choice groups to get their hands on the researchers’ personal and professional information. The documents were available online for two days before the belated redactions. Links to the unredacted documents sent to reporters remained live for at least five days.
“I was actually hoping that they corrected it fast enough that it wouldn’t be re-circulated, but I guess that was just wishful thinking,” Gu said.
Relationship Raises Eyebrows on Capitol Hill
Gu didn’t realize that CMP had circulated the researchers’ names in 2015. No matter which came first, the underlying fact remains the same: CMP and Blackburn are using many of the same documents to try and prove the existence of fetal tissue trafficking.
The connection, at a minimum, raises a chicken-or-egg scenario. Is CMP feeding information to Blackburn, is it the other way around—or is it a combination of the two?
Congressional Democrats have few doubts that it’s all of the above.
“That relationship is clearly very close,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the panel’s ranking member, said in an interview with Rewire. “It certainly appears that the Republicans may be receiving documents and information directly from Daleiden or someone associated with him.”
StemExpress, the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos, raised the same objections over Blackburn’s exhibits for the hearing looking into the allegations of fetal tissue “pricing.”
“While some of these illegally obtained documents are posted to the CMP website, some of the Majority’s exhibits have never appeared publicly, suggesting that perhaps the Select Panel may be receiving so-called ‘evidence’ directly from Mr. Daleiden and/or his associates,” the company’s counsel wrote in a letter to the select panel.
Blackburn’s select panel did not respond for comment by publication time.
Fetal tissue research plays an important role in understanding the causes of diseases, particularly Zika and others that strike in utero, according to the researcher. Such research could also lead to major developments in the area of regenerative medicine, potentially replacing lost neurons as a result of Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.
The researcher that requested anonymity sought to correct the record on Blackburn’s assertions about the processes governing such research.
“It’s important for the public to understand the way research works,” the researcher said. Biologists “will do absolutely everything that they can” in the initial stages to use human cultured cells or animal models, turning to fetal tissue specimens only for final, confirmatory experiments. The researcher described a multistep process that involved senior-level reviews to determine whether experiments had advanced to that stage and, if so, establish reputable sources from which to place orders.
“I would want to reassure people who don’t support the use of fetal tissue for research that researchers take the weight of the responsibility of using this material very seriously,” the researcher said. The research community approaches fetal tissue “with the utmost respect” and reserves use “for the most important experiments when there is no other possible scientifically valid way to address the question that needs to be addressed.”
Frustrations, Fears Run High Amid Slowing Research
Gu echoed similar ethical considerations in his use of fetal tissue. Through Ganogen, he’s set an ambitious goal: End the organ donor shortage, starting with pediatric patients, by growing human fetal organs in animals. He credits fetal tissue with the potential to greatly accelerate the clinical trial process.
“There’s no alternative to having human tissue, and this is human tissue that would be incinerated and thrown away. We’re not encouraging abortions in any shape or form,” Gu said. “A transplant surgeon doesn’t encourage traffic fatalities so they have organs to transplant into their patients.”
The research community, nevertheless, is suffering as a direct result of the investigation and the anti-choice sentiment fueling it. The New York Times reported a downturn in the availability of fetal tissue for research and the willingness of institutions to proceed with what remains. One neurologist delayed his multiple sclerosis research until 2019, according to the Washington Post.
Separately, the reproductive health-care community is facing its own set of consequences—in the form of unprecedented violence that researchers fear could head their way and ultimately, dissuade them from participating in fetal tissue research.
The researcher that requested anonymity recognized the cessation of research as the investigation’s “intended,” if misguided, goal.
“To my mind, it doesn’t help the overall cause of improving humanity by curing disease, and finding new remedies for conditions that plague all of us, to intimidate researchers in this way, especially in an instance like this where it is not the researchers themselves that are accused of doing anything wrong,” the researcher said.
The way Gu sees it, the select panel isn’t just putting his own life, and research, at risk. It’s endangering widespread medical advancements. And it’s frustrating for him.
“That’s why we went to medical school in the first place—to help patients, not to be subpoenaed by Congress,” Gu said.