Can the state turn you into a legal incubator? The First District Court of Appeal in Florida heard arguments that asked that very question after the state ordered a woman confined to a hospital bed, against her wishes, when she was 25 weeks into her pregnancy.
Update 1/15/10 2pm EST: Samantha Burton released a statement
to the press today which you can read below.
Can the state turn you into a legal incubator? Can care of a fetus take primacy over your legal ability to control your own
life? On Tuesday the First District Court of Appeal in Florida heard arguments that
asked that very question after the state ordered a woman confined
to a hospital bed, against her wishes, when she was 25 weeks into her
In March 2009 Samantha Burton was experiencing
problems with her pregnancy. On the advice of her obstetrician she willingly
checked into the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, but after a few days there and
after her pregnancy had stabilized, she was unhappy with the hospital and wanted
to check out. "She didn’t feel like it was the right place for her," said her
lawyer David H. Abrams, who took her case pro bono after the state became
After she expressed a desire to leave, the
hospital lawyers went to the Circuit Court of Leon County, which ordered Burton
to be confined indefinitely to the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and to submit,
against her will, to any and all medical treatments, including bed rest and cesarean
section delivery, that the "the unborn child’s attending physician," deemed necessary
to "preserve the life and health of Samantha Burton’s unborn child." The
Circuit Court even denied Burton the right to transfer to a different hospital.
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Abrams said the court order was so broad,
that even after an emergency cesarean section several days later showed the
child to be stillborn – fundamentally making the ordered bed rest moot — they
had to get an order to allow Burton to be legally released from the hospital.
"The original court order had almost no limits," Abrams said. "So we felt we
had to go back to the circuit court to lift the order just to make sure she
could be released.
"[The Circuit Court’s order] basically made
her into an incubator for the state," Abrams said. "Everything was focused on
the health of the fetus. They essentially took her, as a legal person, out of
According to Samantha Burton’s advocates the
breadth and scope of control taken by the state of Florida in her case was so
broad and frightening that even though the original circuit court order is
moot, she is asking the First District Court of Appeals in Florida to
rule the order unconstitutional so that no other woman will find herself in this
situation. The ACLU of Florida and the American Medical
Women’s Association have joined the case.
Diana Kasdan is a staff attorney with the ACLU
Reproductive Freedom Project, which filed
an amicus brief on Burton’s behalf.
She says that the original circuit court order should never have been applied
in the first place. "The Florida Constitution has an explicit right of privacy
that has been held by the Florida Supreme Court to apply to medical decisions,
including the right to refuse treatment," Kasdan said. She also pointed out that
Burton was denied the option of treatment by doctors of her own choice by the
circuit court’s order. "What this says is not only are we going to force you to
get medical care whether you want it or not, but the state determines who your
care is going to be administered by," Kasdan said.
Abrams said that the Circuit Court also applied the wrong
standard to Burton’s case. "They used the standard of what is in the ‘best
interest of the child,’" he said. "The best interest of the child makes it
sound all nice, warm and fuzzy, but the real problem is that it’s really a subjective
standard" before birth. Abrams said using that standard during pregnancy means
that almost any behavior that a court deems as not the best way for pregnant
women to take care of themselves could be used to take legal control of their
own bodies away from them.
The case is now in the hands of the Court
Update: Here is a statement by Samantha Burton she released through her lawyers.
"When I went to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in March 2009
because of pregnancy complications, I was desperately hoping to receive the
care I needed to save my baby. However,
after a few days there, I did not feel I was receiving the care I needed, and instead
of being allowed to leave or go to another hospital, I found myself being
ordered by a judge to stay at Tallahassee Memorial and submit to all medical
care from its hospital staff, whether I agreed or not. In the end, I lost my baby. The entire experience
was horrible and I am still very upset about it. I am trying to move on. I appreciate all those who have voiced their
support for me, and I hope nobody else has to go through what I went through."
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.
Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggests the next president is going to have a couple of U.S. Supreme Court nominations to make, which means the Court could be effectively up for grabs depending on this election’s outcome.
This summer, the Supreme Court ordered the Obama administration and religiously affiliated nonprofits who object to providing contraception to try and find some kind of compromise. While they hammer one out, a University of Notre Dame student has asked a federal appeals court to let her join in the litigation, to fight the university’s stance of trying to deny access to contraception coverage.
Florida officials have not yet appealed a federal district court ruling blocking a law that would have prevented Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood reproductive health care centers. The law would also mandate a state regulator review of patient records from half of the approximately 70,000 abortions in the state each year.
An Ohio appeals court ruled a Cleveland abortion clinic can move forward with its lawsuit challenging requirements that prohibit public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with clinics, along with another requirement that mandates providers to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion.