SAN FRANCISCO (BP) -- Pro-life advocates decried an award of more than $2.2 million to Planned Parenthood in a suit involving undercover investigations that provided evidence the country's leading abortion provider traded in the sale of baby body parts.
A federal jury in San Francisco issued the penalties Nov. 15 against the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and, among others, two investigators who secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing their sale of fetal parts, as well as their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use. David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt also clandestinely recorded conversations with officials of fetal tissue procurement businesses that worked with Planned Parenthood.
The jury agreed with Planned Parenthood that the defendants were guilty of fraud, trespassing, illegal recording, racketeering and breach of contract, according to The San Francisco Examiner. It awarded Planned Parenthood $870,000 in punitive damages, about $470,000 in compensatory damages and -- under a federal anti-racketeering law -- triple compensatory damages of more than $1.4 million, The Examiner reported. The total was $2.28 million.
The National Right to Life Committee called the judgment "chilling for anyone acting in good faith to reveal what they feel is criminal activity or behavior. This judgment is a miscarriage of justice and threatens [First Amendment] rights and investigative journalism."
Planned Parenthood was "thrilled with today's verdict," said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). "The jury recognized today that those behind the campaign broke the law in order to advance their goals of banning safe, legal abortion" in the United States.
The legal organizations representing the pro-life investigators criticized the decision and said they would appeal.
"It is as though the jury completely disregarded every piece of evidence we produced," said Alexandra Snyder, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation. "Not only does Planned Parenthood engage in illegal and morally repugnant practices, but its agents never bothered to tell the defendants that the conversations about things like 'crushing above and crushing below' to get more desirable and salable body parts were confidential."
Peter Breen, lawyer for the Thomas More Society, said the lawsuit "is payback for David Daleiden exposing Planned Parenthood's dirty business of buying and selling fetal parts and organs. His investigation into criminal activity by America's largest abortion provider utilized standard investigative journalism techniques, those applied regularly by news outlets across the country."
Following the 2015 release of the first undercover videos, Daleiden, CMP's founder, spoke at the inaugural Evangelicals for Life conference in January 2016 in Washington, D.C. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission sponsors the event.
At the time, Daleiden explained his ethical approach to the clandestine operation: "I think that undercover work is fundamentally different from lying, because the purpose of undercover work is to serve the truth and to bring the truth to greater clarity and to communicate the truth more strongly."
Federal Judge William Orrick, who presided over the trial, ruled journalism could not be a defense in the face of Planned Parenthood's claims, thereby dealing a blow to the defendants' arguments. Testimony during the six-week trial appeared to affirm statements made by Planned Parenthood officials and others on CMP's secret videos.
Those undercover videos included evidence of the dissection of live babies outside the womb to remove organs.
Planned Parenthood centers performed more than 332,000 abortions nationwide during the most recent year for which statistics are available. PPFA and its affiliates received $563.8 million in government grants and reimbursements in its latest financial year.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.