The young man behind two undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood seemed to come out of nowhere. No one had heard of David Daleiden, or his non-profit, the Center for Medical Progress, when he first accused the health care provider of illegally selling aborted fetal baby parts last week. But in fact, the 26-year-old has been helping to create similar sting videos for years and has ties to larger well-known groups that oppose abortion.
Update at 4:45 p.m. ET: Democrats Call For Inquiry
Four Democrats in Congress — Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Zoe Lofgren, Jerry Nadler, and Yvette Clarke — have written to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, asking them to open investigations into the Center for Medical Progress.
The Democrats say the videos were filmed as part of an “elaborate scheme” — using “fake identification” and without the approval of the Planned Parenthood doctor who appears in them.
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The initial registration form for Daleiden’s non-profit, first made public by The Nation, lists two other members: Albin Rhomberg, an anti-abortion activist, and Troy Newman, the head of the national anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which alerted reporters a day before the release of the first video about “huge news breaking tomorrow.” Abortion rights supporters have been quick to point out that Newman once defended the killing of an abortion provider as “justifiable defensive action.”
Daleiden has said he took about three years to plan this latest project, secretly recording many hours of conversations, “all featuring top-level Planned Parenthood executives, and doctors, and also expert eyewitness testimony about the fetal parts harvesting,” he told NPR.
Daldeiden previously worked at Live Action, whose young founder, Lila Rose, has become a darling among abortion opponents with her own series of sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood. Rose says she came up with the idea while at UCLA, where she got to know James O’Keefe, whose undercover videos have since targeted NPR and the community organizer ACORN. Daleiden told The New York Times he’s only met O’Keefe once but considers him a friend.
Starting in 2007, Rose has gone into Planned Parenthood clinics posing as a pregnant teenager, sometimes saying she wanted to abort the baby if it was a girl, other times saying she was underage and her boyfriend was 31. Her highly-edited videos on YouTube have accused Planned Parenthood officials of condoning sex-selective abortion, covering up for sex-traffickers, and turning a blind eye to child sexual abuse, among other things.
The Live Action videos have caused a small flurry of reaction over the years. Some local governments announced investigations or suspended grants to Planned Parenthood, and at least one local Planned Parenthood staffer was fired. But the sensational charges have not stuck. As with Daleiden’s videos, closer examinations have found those posted by Live Action use deceptive editing to make false claims.
Abortion rights groups have suggested that Daleiden needed a new company to issue his videos, since the work of Live Action has been discredited. He appears to have created a sham business called Biomax Procurement Services as a cover, so he and colleagues (and occasionally paid actors) could pose as buyers of fetal tissue, secretly recording the Planned Parenthood officials during meetings. The Center for Medical Progress was created in 2013, and its only focus seems to be the recent videos.
Despite massive media coverage and a rush by Republicans to investigate, Daleiden’s videos so far contain no evidence that Planned Parenthood has done anything illegal. A 1993 law says clinics can’t profit when women donate fetal tissue, and in the first video Planned Parenthood official Deborah Nucatola says repeatedly that the group does not. It is, however, standard practice for clinics to be compensated for staff time, resources, and transportation involved in providing tissue, which is what Planned Parenthood says Nucatola is seen discussing. Experts say such donations are crucial for medical research.
“Originally, the development of many vaccines used fetal tissue,” says John Robertson, a bioethicist at The University of Texas School of Law at Austin. “This goes back to the polio vaccine.” He says fetal tissue has more recently been used for research on treating Alzheimer’s, diabetes, AIDS, and Parkinson’s Disease. “It was thought that dopamine-producing cells in the fetal brain could be transplanted into the brain of a Parkinson’s patient and replace the dopamine-producing cells there, which die out.”
Daleiden admits such research has been going on for decades, noting in an interview with NPR that one of the first bioscience research groups was “founded in 1989, which is actually the year I was born.” Still, Republican politicians in Congress and elsewhere have declared disgust at the idea of using tissue from aborted fetuses. Officials in Louisiana and Texas have announced investigations into Planned Parenthood, as have three Republican-led panels in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In a letter to Congress, Planned Parenthood complains that it is once again the victim of “a group of extremists who have intimidated women and doctors for years — in their agenda to ban abortion completely.”
The videos have surfaced just as Congress is debating next year’s budget. Leaders in both the House and Senate have said they expect to see amendments that revive longtime calls to defund Planned Parenthood.
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