CA intervenes in Planned Parenthood video sting

Undercover videos that sent Planned Parenthood into crisis mode have drawn the concern of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose interest in reviewing their legality helped put the Golden State at the center of a dramatic national controversy.

Kamala HarrisHarris, embarked on a campaign to replace outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., promised lawmakers to “carefully review” the organization behind the tapes for “any violations of California law,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

The lawmakers, four Congressional Democrats, had “asked Harris and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to determine if officials from the Irvine-based Center for Medical Progress broke any laws when they posed as workers for a biotech company while recording Planned Parenthood physicians without their consent,” the Bee reported.

“Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Zoe Lofgren, Jerry Nadler and Yvette Clarke cited reports that founder David Daleiden filed paperwork to create a phony entity. They also asked the state’s top law enforcement official to look into possible violations of the Invasion of Privacy Act, which bars recording people without their permission.”

Swift litigation

Jason Taellious / flickr

Jason Taellious / flickr

Unlike previous efforts by activists to cast an unflattering light on the organization, the videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress captured lurid remarks concerning the sale and use of aborted fetal body parts and organs. In addition to creating a public relations mess for Planned Parenthood, the videos also raised alarms for a company that acts as procurement middleman between the abortion provider and researchers desirous of the parts.

The company, StemExpress, swiftly filed suit to protect themselves, drawing a temporary restraining order from Los Angeles Superior Court. According to the Associated Press, the order “prohibits the Center for Medical Progress from releasing any video of three high-ranking StemExpress officials taken at a restaurant in May. It appears to be the first legal action prohibiting the release of a video from the organization.”

In one video, a former StemExpress employee told the Center for Medical Progress that she expected to be “drawing blood” rather than “procuring tissue from aborted fetuses,” according to the Federalist.

Center for Medical Progress David Daleiden hit back at the StemExpress suit in a statement, calling the litigation “meritless” and accusing StemExpress of fostering an “illegal baby parts trade,” AP added.

High-stakes politics

Although the abortion issue has not dominated the national political scene for a number of years, the shock and surprise surrounding Daledien’s videos provoked an immediate response. “Republicans called on Congress to withhold federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and GOP lawmakers in several states opened investigations of their own,” the Bee observed. “Democrats pushed back by focusing scrutiny on the producer of the videos[.]” Despite the videos’ Irvine origin, the Golden State has remained a bulwark of pro-choice public sentiment.

“In liberal-leaning California, nearly 70 percent of adults say the government should not interfere with access to abortion, according to a Public Policy Institute of California Poll last year. That number is similar to majorities registered in Field Poll surveys since the 1980s.”

One reason for the political furor: the market for fetal body parts has not been tightly regulated. “Companies that obtain the tissue from clinics and sell it to laboratories exist in a gray zone, legally,” according to the New York Times. “Federal law says they cannot profit from the tissue itself, but the law does not specify how much they can charge for processing and shipping.” Planned Parenthood denied it broke these laws.

Big business

But the trade in fetal parts, which offers access to organ stem cells impossible to obtain in other ways, has become a quietly lucrative endeavor, especially for the two small California companies that have met much of researchers’ demand. The founder of StemExpress, for instance, “started StemExpress with $9,000,” the Times reported. “An article last November in Sacramento Business Journal said that the company had grown more than 1,300 percent in three years. Its revenue was $2.2 million, according to a report in August 2014 in Inc. magazine.”

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