Covert Planned Parenthood tapes remain sealed, for now

Covert Planned Parenthood tapes remain sealed, for now
Antiabortion activist David Daleidenfaces trial in Texas in connection with covert videos, as well as a lawsuit by the National Abortion Federation. (Jenny Manrique / Investigative Reporting Program)

About 500 hours of video and audio secretly recorded during meetings of abortion providers will remain under court-ordered seal -- for now.

After hearing arguments Friday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick did not rule on the National Abortion Federation's request for a preliminary injunction to keep the recordings under wraps.

While "I've concluded from the beginning I didn't see that there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing" in the making of the tapes, Orrick said, he would continue to weigh arguments that their release could put the providers at risk.

The covert recordings were the work of David Daleiden, who over three years -- using a phony name and hidden cameras -- infiltrated members-only conventions of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. 

He released the first videos in July, contending that they contained evidence of unlawful trafficking in fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations.

Federal law allows fetal tissue to be collected and used but not for profit, and medical ethics prohibit altering abortions purely to facilitate that trade.

After the recordings were released, more than two dozen states and five congressional committees launched investigations; most of those have been closed without criminal findings.

Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress are being sued by the National Abortion Federation for invasion of privacy and breech of confidentiality agreements.

The federation contends that release of the recordings exposes its members to possible harassment and violence.

Daleiden's lawyers argue that he is protected under the 1st Amendment as a self-described "citizen journalist" who believed he was tracking a criminal enterprise.

The anti-abortion activist also is facing contempt of court charges for allegedly violating a temporary order preventing release of the tapes by giving all of them to a congressional committee that had subpoenaed just some of the files.

Daleiden's lawyer took the blame Friday, saying he had felt pressured by  aides for Republican lawmakers who wanted to investigate Planned Parenthood.

"There were raised voices and calls late at night. They were heated," said Peter Breen. "Congress was saying, 'Where's the hard drive?' "

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