The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco declined to review a decision that upheld a jury verdict against a group of anti-abortion activists and citizen journalists who secretly recorded and posted videos of Planned Parenthood staff at conferences and clinics. The appellants had requested a rehearing of the appeal before a panel of 11 judges, but their requests were denied.
The panel had largely upheld the 2019 jury verdict, which found the activists liable for recording secret videos of abortion providers and posting them online. The jury awarded Planned Parenthood more than $2 million in compensatory and statutory damages. The decision does not put an end to the legal fight between David Daleiden and Planned Parenthood, as the appellants have vowed to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.
The defendants claimed they were investigating “violent felonies” based on a belief that fetuses were being born alive at Planned Parenthood clinics and that the organization was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue for medical research. They argued that their actions were part of legitimate journalism and that they were citizen journalists investigating a matter of public concern.
One of the defendants, Sandra Merritt, claimed that she participated in an undercover investigative project for Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress to expose what she said was fetal tissue trafficking in the abortion industry. To gain access to abortion industry insiders, they posed as representatives of a tissue procurement company, and using a cover story, they secured lunch meetings with Planned Parenthood doctors and attended conferences.
Catherine Short with the Life Legal Defense Foundation, who represents one of the other defendants who appealed the jury verdict, argued that the Ninth Circuit’s decision broke with “ancient legal precedent” by affirming as compensatory damages money spent solely for upgrades to prevent future infiltrations by appellants and third parties. She argued that the decision sets a dangerous precedent and could lead to plaintiffs being awarded damages for expenses incurred to prevent hypothetical future harm.
In conclusion, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review a decision upholding a jury verdict against a group of anti-abortion activists and citizen journalists who secretly recorded and posted videos of Planned Parenthood staff at conferences and clinics. The decision does not put an end to the legal fight between the parties, as the appellants have vowed to petition the U.S. Supreme Court. The case raises important questions about the limits of free speech and the boundaries of investigative journalism.