July 30, 2015 — The Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order blocking an antiabortion-rights group from releasing any footage featuring executives from a California-based company, StemExpress, that supplies fetal tissue for research, AP/ABC News reports.
According to AP/ABC News, the restraining order took effect immediately and will remain in effect until a hearing on Aug. 19 (Armario, AP/ABC News, 7/29).
The antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress recently released three misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood that depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation. CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/29).
One of the videos includes commentary from an individual identified as a former StemExpress staff member (AP/ABC News, 7/29).
Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization said it does not profit from fetal tissue donations and only receives reimbursement for costs associated with such donations, which is legal. Meanwhile, supporters of Planned Parenthood said the videos are part of a decades-long campaign against the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/29).
In addition to the StemExpress case, California Attorney General Kamala Harris' (D) office is reviewing CMP's tactics to decide whether the group's actions violated state law. Harris wrote in a letter, "We will carefully review the allegations ... to determine whether there were any violations of California law." She added, "This office will also review any materials filed by the [CMP] with the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts to determine whether the organization violated laws including, but not limited to, our registration and reporting requirements" (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/27).
Court Blocks Videos Featuring StemExpress Staff
According to AP/ABC News, the court order is the first legal action blocking CMP from releasing video footage.
Specifically, the order prohibits CMP from releasing videos taken in May that feature three high-ranking officials at StemExpress. Planned Parenthood is one organization that donates fetal tissue samples to StemExpress (AP/ABC News, 7/29).
PPFA President Denounces 'Extremist' Videos
In related news, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards in a Washington Post opinion piece denounces the "extremis[t]" videos as "a new low" in a "decades-long campaign" against Planned Parenthood "health centers, providers and patients."
Richards writes, "Planned Parenthood has been a trusted nonprofit provider of women's health care for nearly a century," providing 2.7 million people annually with "high-quality, nonjudgmental, compassionate care." Ongoing attacks against the organization "are not about us," she writes, adding, "They are about the ability of women across the country to access health care. Period."
According to Richards, "These extremists created a fake business, made apparently misleading corporate filings and then used false government identifications to gain access to Planned Parenthood's medical and research staff with the agenda of secretly filming without consent -- then heavily edited the footage to make false and absurd assertions about our standards and services." Noting that the "videos do not show anything illegal," Richards writes, "While our opponents have been working to create scandal and panic where none exists, doctors and nurses at Planned Parenthood health centers have continued to provide care to thousands of women, men and young people every day -- contraception, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections ... and safe and legal abortion."
"The goal of these attacks," as well as resulting calls from Congress to defund Planned Parenthood's preventive care services, "is to get Planned Parenthood to stop providing care -- and that will never happen," she writes, concluding, "We have proudly provided reproductive health-care services for 99 years, and we are only getting started" (Richards, Washington Post, 7/29).
Lawmakers Opposed to Abortion-Rights Vow To Vote Against Funding for Planned Parenthood
In other news, conservative lawmakers in the House and Senate have voiced opposition against any government spending measures that allocate funding for Planned Parenthood, Politico reports.
According to Politico, opposition from conservative lawmakers over the issue could lead to another government shutdown dispute in the fall. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass spending legislation to keep the government in operation.
For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he would "support any and all legislative efforts to defund Planned Parenthood." Meanwhile, Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said they are mulling support for a spending rider designed to block Planned Parenthood funding in spending measures this fall (Everett, Politico, 7/29).
Similarly, in the House, a group of 18 conservative lawmakers in a letter sent to GOP House leaders urged action "to fully defund Planned Parenthood." They wrote, "Please know that we cannot and will not support any funding resolution -- an appropriations bill, an omnibus package, a continuing resolution, or otherwise -- that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood, including mandatory funding streams."
The House lawmakers also urged Congress to "do everything within its power to investigate" the claims alleged in the videos "and take immediate action to stop them" (Shabad, The Hill, 7/29).
Planned Parenthood Calls for Federal Study of Fetal Tissue Research
In other related news, Planned Parenthood on Wednesday asked NIH to assemble a committee of independent experts to examine issues related to fetal tissue research, the AP/Washington Times reports.
Richards said of the request, "The inflammatory and misleading videos have pushed this issue into the national spotlight ... And a thoughtful, careful review by leading medical and ethical experts could do a lot to help the public and policymakers think through this issue and reach informed conclusions" (Fram, AP/Washington Times, 7/29).
Planned Parenthood Shuts Down Website Following Second Cyberattack
In more related news, Planned Parenthood on Wednesday shut down its website following a second cyberattack targeting the institution in a week's time, The Hill reports.
According to The Hill, Planned Parenthood officials said the website was plagued by a "denial of service attack," which diverts large amounts of traffic to the site at one time to force its shutdown. Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of PPFA, said, "We deeply regret that in order to more fully protect our websites from these extremist attacks, our full online content will be temporarily unavailable to people looking for good, accurate health information." Laguens added that the organization is "taking every measure possible to mitigate any criminal efforts to undermine our mission and services" (Ferris, The Hill, 7/29).
Earlier this week, a hacker group calling itself 3301 breached Planned Parenthood's information systems and released the names and contact information, including email addresses, for more than 300 of the organization's employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/29). According to The Hill, it is not clear whether the two cyberattacks are related (The Hill, 7/29).