Civics: Invasion-of-Privacy Case Tests Limits to Investigative Reporting in California

Helen Christophi:

After two years of legal wrangling, a California judge will soon decide if there is enough evidence to try two anti-abortion activists who surreptitiously recorded Planned Parenthood staff supposedly arranging the sale of aborted fetal tissue, in a case some fear will hamstring journalists who go undercover to expose wrongdoing.

In 2017, state prosecutors charged Center for Medical Progress (CMP) activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt with 15 felony counts each of invasion of privacy over the covert recordings, which they shot at abortion-industry conferences and restaurants by posing as employees of a fake fetal-tissue procurement company. The pair then posted the videos online.

Planned Parenthood contends the footage was heavily edited to dupe viewers into believing it traffics in tissue obtained from late-term abortions, touching off a wave of violence by anti-abortion activists that culminated in the 2015 murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

The pair’s attorneys and state prosecutors will finally square off in San Francisco County Superior Court on April 22, where for two weeks they will present evidence gathered so far to Judge Christopher Hite who will decide if a trial is warranted. None of the parties’ attorneys returned requests for comment on this story.