A California jury found pro-life activists David Daleiden, Sandra Merritt and the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) guilty in a lawsuit brought against them by Planned Parenthood. The nation’s largest abortion provider was awarded $870,000 in punitive damages, and with other compensation and damages the verdict gives them almost $2.3 million. Planned Parenthood originally asked for $20 million.
Planned Parenthood charged CMP, Daleiden and Merritt with numerous crimes, including conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of contract, illegal secret recording and trespassing. Daleiden and Merritt attended abortion industry conferences from 2013 to 2015 posing as employees of Biomax Procurement Services, a fake fetal research tissue company. They also recorded workers at Planned Parenthood Clinics discussing their abortion work and connections with fetal tissue businesses.
CMP describes itself as “a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.” They began releasing videos in 2015, showing doctors eating meals and sipping wine while discussing abortion procedures, the harvesting of fetal tissue and prices for fetal body parts.
Planned Parenthood, along with some allies in the news media, claimed the videos were “heavily edited.” But it was clear from the testimony given by those in the videos that they had discussed these issues openly and that the video content was accurately recorded and “no big deal.”
U.S. District Judge William Orrick III presided over the case. He instructed the jurors to find the defendants guilty of trespassing at the national conferences and clinics, saying “I have already determined that these defendants trespassed at each of these locations.” He ordered the jury to focus on damages for Planned Parenthood.
Earlier in the trial Daleiden sought to remove Orrick from the case because of his previous ties to Planned Parenthood. Judge Orrick had served as board member for a San Francisco health center that gave a Planned Parenthood clinic rent-free space.
In a statement about the jury decision, Daleiden said, “Justice was not done today in San Francisco. While top Planned Parenthood witnesses spent six weeks testifying under oath that the undercover videos are true and Planned Parenthood sold fetal organs on a quid pro quo basis, a biased judge with close Planned Parenthood ties spent six weeks influencing the jury with pre-determined rulings and suppressing the video evidence, all in order to rubber-stamp Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit attack on the First Amendment.”
The defendants plan to appeal the verdict. Thomas More Society was one of the legal groups working for the defense. Its president, Tom Brejcha, said the decision violates freedom of the press and free speech. He is optimistic, saying, “Planned Parenthood decided that it was above the law. Planned Parenthood was wrong, and I am confident that we will win on appeal.”
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