WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid by anti-abortion activists to win the release of videos they surreptitiously recorded at meetings of abortion providers.
The justices declined to take up appeals by the abortion opponents and left in place a lower court’s ruling blocking the release of videos that had the aim of exposing alleged illegal sales of aborted fetal tissue for profit. The trial judge in the case concluded there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the abortion providers captured in the videos.
The activists, including anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden, recorded the videos in 2014 and 2015 at annual meetings of the National Abortion Federation, a nonprofit organization representing abortion providers including affiliates of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has said the videos were heavily edited to leave a false impression of wrongdoing.
The National Abortion Federation in 2015 sued Daleiden, the California-based Center for Medical Progress and former center board member Troy Newman to stop the release of videos.
The federation said the videos were illegally recorded at private meetings protected by confidentiality agreements and that the anti-abortion activists had infiltrated the meetings by posing as executives of a company that bought fetal tissue.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco blocked the release of the videos in 2016, ruling that enforcing the confidentiality agreements would not violate free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Orrick discounted the claim by the abortion opponents that they were acting as “citizen journalists” in an undercover investigation.
Such confidentiality agreements help ensure privacy and safety for abortion providers given the increase in threats and violence they faced since the defendants’ release of other videos in July 2015, Orrick said.
The judge noted that in November 2015 a man fatally shot three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. The man told police he was upset with Planned Parenthood for performing abortions and “the selling of body parts,” according to court documents.
National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta said the video campaign has put abortion providers at risk. “We are grateful that the Supreme Court denied the defendants’ latest attempt to circumvent the very necessary security precautions NAF has in place,” Saporta said.
Daleiden’s attorney Catherine Short said, “The Supreme Court seems to have decided that the problems with Judge Orrick’s gag order are better addressed at lower court levels at this time.”
Orrick later found Daleiden, the Center for Medical Progress and two of his attorneys in contempt of court after they published some of the blocked material on the internet.
The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the injunction against the videos’ publication, prompting Daleiden and Newman to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Daleiden and an associate, Sandra Merritt, last year were charged in California with filming Planned Parenthood workers without their consent.
Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham