For Planned Parenthood, turnabout is fair play

The irony was lost on no one late yesterday when a Texas grand jury — initially impaneled to investigate Planned Parenthood — handed down indictments instead of two individuals responsible for undercover videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials illegally trafficking in fetal tissue.

Here’s more from Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune:

Some people thought — hoped might be a better word — that Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast would be charged with illegally trafficking organs and tissue of aborted fetuses. That followed sensational coverage of videos that purported to catch those officials talking in detail about those kinds of transactions.

The secretly recorded footage was collected by anti-abortion activists who presented themselves as potential buyers. They released their videos last year, reaping a whirlwind of news coverage and political attention for their sensational charges and their covert methods. Planned Parenthood was set reeling. Jubilant politicians and activists called on police and prosecutors to investigate and, if possible, to file charges.

That was the setup, and a phalanx of law enforcers got to work, including the Texas Rangers, Houston police and the Harris County district attorney’s office. A grand jury worked for more than two months, according to the DA’s office, and came up with no criminal charges against Planned Parenthood. Instead, they found the crime was in back of the cameras and not in front, charging David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt with tampering with a government record — a second-degree felony. Daleiden faces an additional Class A misdemeanor indictment for prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

Other states, including Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Washington, had likewise opened similar investigations that ultimately cleared Planned Parenthood.

The organization, for its part, filed a federal civil racketeering lawsuit in mid-January against Daleiden, Merritt, their organization, the Center for Medical Progress, and others, contending that they launched an anti-abortion smear campaign with edited videos and false accusations about fetal tissue donation practices. That lawsuit is pending in San Francisco.



Planned Parenthood fights back

Planned Parenthood and its California affiliates filed suit today for damages — including treble damages under civil racketeering laws — against organizations and individuals they contend launched an antiabortion smear campaign with edited videos and false accusations about fetal tissue donation practices.

The 65-page complaint, filed in federal court in San Francisco, opens with this:

This complaint details a complex criminal enterprise conceived and executed by anti-abortion extremists. The express aim of the enterprise — which stretched over years and involved fake companies, fake identifications, and large-scale illegal taping — was to demonize Planned Parenthood, harass and intimidate its dedicated staff, and interrupt its operations, all with the ultimate goal of interfering with w omen’s access to legal abortion.

Named as defendants are the Center for Medical Progress,  Biomax Procurement Services LLC, David Daleiden (aka Robert Sarkis), Troy Newman, Albin Rhomberg, Phillip S. Cronin, Sandra Susan Merritt (aka Susan Tennebaum) and Gerardo Adrian Lopez.

(Source: Planned Parenthood)

(Source: Planned Parenthood)

The organization alleges that the named individuals created a fake company, Biomax, which held itself out as a legitimate fetal tissue procurement company, created fake identifications and stole one woman’s identity to gain access into Planned Parenthood conferences and facilities and then used hidden cameras to tape hundreds of hours of conversations with staff.

They then created YouTube videos purporting to show organization officials violating federal law relating to tissue donation. Forensic analysis confirms that “the videos were heavily manipulated, with critical content deliberately deleted and disconnected portions sewn together to create a misleading impression,” the group alleges in the complaint.

The videos had the intended effect, the group continues — leading millions of people to believe that Planned Parenthood had engaged in in illegal behavior, subjecting staff to harassment and attacks, and spurring state and federal investigations.

Read the complaint here.




Franklin Graham’s departure: A badge of honor for the GOP

Image: Franklin Graham's Facebook page

Image: Franklin Graham’s Facebook page

One of the nation’s most troubled well-known people, the evangelist Franklin Graham, says he’s quitting the Republican party. Setting aside the rather strange reality that a so-called “man of God” would make his political party a public matter and feel obliged to make a big announcement about it (and that anyone would really give a darn when he did), it should be stated that this is a badge of honor for the GOP.

Graham’s stated reason for leaving — the recently adopted federal budget deal and the fact that it continued some funding for the health services provider Planned Parenthood — amounted to a compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Washington. And as anyone who’s been paying attention in recent years, such compromises have been in short supply for some time. By taking such a stand against a deal that fully satisfied neither side, Graham is endorsing a continuation of the dysfunction and gridlock that has harmed the country so grievously in recent years. Thank goodness a majority of members of Congress aren’t listening to this dim bulb. With any luck, Graham will make himself completely irrelevant to Republican politicians and then people like Gov. Pat McCrory won’t feel obliged to kiss his ring so often.

Of course, that should have happened long ago. The Republicans should have disavowed Graham years ago for his regular rants of hate against Muslims and LGBT people. Unfortunately, folks like North Carolina’s governor have ignored Graham’s venom for his fellow human beings in their quest to attract social conservative voters. Maybe now that will change, but it’s probably not time to hold your breath.

As a humorous aside, political commentator Steve Benen points out that this is not the first time Graham has thrown a tantrum and quit a major institution recently. Earlier this year, Graham took his fat wads of cash out of Wells Fargo Bank because the bank ran a commercial with a same-sex couple who had adopted a deaf child. The funny part: Graham’s new bank, BB&T, turns out among other things to be a sponsor of gay pride events. Let’s hope Graham’s latest hate and ignorance-based actions work out for him just as well.


Greensboro columnist looks at whether NC is a terrorist hotbed

Doug Clark of the Greensboro News & Record adds his name this morning to the growing list of observers who have detected a hard and unpleasant truth about terrorists and North Carolina — namely, we’re just as likely to produce them as import them from elsewhere. Here’s Clark:

“Our ugly secret is out.

‘Forget Syria. The most dangerous religious extremists are migrants from North and South Carolina,’ a headline in the online magazine Slate proclaimed Monday.

Author William Saletan noticed a pattern with the arrest of Robert Lewis Dear, the alleged gunman responsible for last week’s shootings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. Dear lived in the North Carolina mountains before moving west.

‘For two decades, the Tar Heel State has been a hotbed of religious extremism, fueled by clerics who preach holy war,’ Saletan wrote. ‘The result is a stream of interstate terrorism.’”

Clark goes on to point out that Saletan’s list of North Carolina grown terrorists is actually incomplete, leaving out as it does, the 1979 Klan murderers in Greensboro. But Clark also pivots from this observation to raise a larger and more important point:

“Do these examples prove Saletan’s premise that North Carolina is a ‘hotbed of religious extremism’? No. I don’t think significantly more of these dangerous extremists have come from North Carolina than from other Southern states. I also don’t consider these people to be “religious,” no matter what they might claim. They certainly aren’t all Christian….

Yet Saletan is making a larger point. North Carolina political leaders almost universally reacted to last month’s Paris terrorist attacks by calling for the government to stop the Syrian refugee program until assurances are made that no terrorists will get into the country and our state by that route.

Yet these examples show there are very dangerous people already here — apart from the routine criminals, of whom there are far too many.

Read more


Courts taking on controversial issues

Some interesting rulings from courts around the country came down on Monday addressing issues that may well land at the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future.

Gun control:  A federal appeals court in New York largely upheld gun control laws passed in New York and Connecticut after the 2012 Newton shootings, finding that there was a substantial relationship between bans on the possession of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines and the states’ compelling interests in controlling crime.

Writing for the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,  Judge Jose A. Cabranes said:

“When used, these weapons tend to result in more numerous wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims. These weapons are disproportionately used in crime, and particularly in criminal mass shootings. They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers.”

Read the full opinion here.

Defunding Planned Parenthood: While lawmakers in Texas cut state Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, a federal district court judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked lawmakers there from doing the same, finding that Planned Parenthood could likely succeed on its claims that the cuts targeted medical services provided to thousands of low-income women and had little to do with the competence of the group’s clinics there.

Calling out the cuts as politically-motivated,  U.S. District Judge John deGravelles wrote:

The uncontradicted evidence in the record at this time is that PPGC does not perform abortions in Louisiana, is not involved in the sale of fetal tissue and none of the conduct in question occurred at the PPGC’s two Louisiana facilities. Based on the record before it, it appears likely that Plaintiff will be able to prove that the attempted termination against it are motived and driven, at least in large part, by reasons unrelated to its competence and unique to it.

Read that decision here, and more on the case from Mother Jones here.

Campaign finance:  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a decision out of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals requiring the group Montanans for Community Development to disclose its donors and spending while it attempts to have state laws that prevent outside groups from coordinating with candidates overturned.

The SCOTUS order is here.