Judge extends hold on recordings made by anti-abortion group

AP News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2015 3:36 AM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge in San Francisco has extended a restraining order that blocks an anti-abortion group from releasing any recordings that it secretly gathered at annual meetings of an abortion providers' association.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick sided with claims by the National Abortion Federation and its members that they would suffer harassment, intimidation and even violence if the Center for Medical Progress was permitted to circulate the material.

The center last month released several secretly recorded videos that it claimed showed Planned Parenthood employees selling fetal tissue for profit, which is illegal.

The federation, a professional association that represents clinics, health centers, doctor's offices and hospitals where abortions are performed, alleges that officers with the Center for Medical Progress infiltrated the federation's yearly conferences in Baltimore and San Francisco by posing as fetal tissue buyers.

Orrick initially issued an emergency restraining order on Friday prohibiting the center from releasing recordings, names, addresses or dates gathered at the meetings.

Following a brief hearing on Monday, the judge agreed to keep the temporary order in place until an Aug. 27 hearing on the federation's request for an injunction permanently disallowing release of the information.

The non-disclosure agreements that Center for Medical Progress agents signed while presenting themselves as legitimate conference participants weighed heavily in his decision, Orrick said.

"As far as I'm concerned, anything that happened during the time of the NAF annual meetings, whether it's in the hallway, in a restaurant, in the meeting hall itself, if it's with NAF participants the defendants wouldn't have had access to but for the agreements signed under false pretenses, I think all of that would be included" in the restraining order, he said.

Brian Chavez-Ochoa, the lawyer representing the Center for Medical Progress, said after the hearing that the group would abide by the order. Chavez-Ochoa said the blocked materials represent "a small percentage" of the information the Irvine, California-based organization has secretly gathered on abortion providers and that it will release additional videos not subject to the order.

"The information they obtained from NAF and the people they spoke with really is of a limited nature to the investigation as a whole," he said.

National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta said after the hearing that the non-disclosure agreements are part of the effort her organization takes pains to protect the privacy and safety of conference participants, many of whom now feel violated and at risk.

"If they can't feel safe and secure at an NAF meeting, where can they feel safe and secure," Saporta said.

The National Abortion Federation has sued the Center for Medical Progress and its officers claiming conspiracy, fraud, racketeering, misrepresentation and trespassing over what it alleges was an elaborate scheme to discredit and endanger federation members.

The lawsuit filed Friday claims that the center's officers along with hired actors gained entry to the professional conferences attended by hundreds of doctors, counselors, abortion rights activists and clinic administrators by creating a phony tissue procurement company called Biomax Procurement Services.

David Daleiden, a leader of the Center for Medical Progress who is also named in the suit, said last week that Planned Parenthood and its allies were trying to silence the group and suppress investigative journalism.

"The Center for Medical Progress follows all applicable laws in the course of our investigative journalism work and will contest all attempts from Planned Parenthood and their allies to silence our First Amendment rights," he said in a statement.

The center has released several undercover videos of Planned Parenthood doctors that have riled anti-abortion activists, including one of a doctor in Colorado discussing the prices of aborted fetal remains and another of the group's medical director describing techniques for obtaining fetal body parts for research.

A Los Angeles judge last week issued a separate temporary restraining order blocking the center from releasing any video of leaders of StemExpress, a California company that provides fetal tissue to researchers.