L.A. judge lifts one ban against antiabortion group releasing secretly recorded video

L.A. judge lifts one ban against antiabortion group releasing secretly recorded video
Anti-abortion protesters gather at the Planned Parenthood office in Orange. A judge has ordered an anti-abortion group not to release secretly made videos recorded at two meetings of the National Abortion Federation. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County judge on Friday ruled that an antiabortion group that secretly recorded videos of abortion providers and others had a 1st Amendment right to make at least one of the recordings public.

Superior Court Judge Joanne O'Donnell dissolved a temporary restraining order that had previously been imposed in state court in L.A. that prevented the release of one video taken by the Center for Medical Progress.


In that case, StemExpress, a Placerville, Calif., company that provides fetal tissue to researchers, had asked the court to block the release of video recorded by the group at a May meeting in an El Dorado Hills restaurant with leaders of the company.

O'Donnell ruled that StemExpress had shown that the firm had a good chance of prevailing in court on an invasion of privacy claim against the group. California law prohibits the unauthorized recording of confidential conversations.

Nevertheless, the judge ruled, the court did not have the legal authority to impose a prior restraint and stop the antiabortion rights group from publishing the video.

The Center for Medical Progress set off a political firestorm recently by releasing secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials reportedly discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses for research.

Those recordings are a fraction of the undercover footage the antiabortion group has said it gathered during a two-and-a-half-year infiltration into the world of abortion providers.

A different judge in federal court previously issued a restraining order preventing the release of videos made by the same group.

In a statement after Friday's ruling in Los Angeles, StemExpress said it was pleased that the judge noted that the company was likely to succeed in court on privacy grounds, but disagreed that blocking the video was inappropriate.

"StemExpress will continue to pursue its claims for damages and to hold defendants accountable for their illegal conduct," the statement said.

Attorney Charles LiMandri, who represents the Center for Medical Progress, said the recording will prove that the StemExpress executives had no expectation of privacy in the restaurant.

"We're pleased with the ruling. The court recognized that trying to stop the release of the video would be an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech," he said.

After the ruling, the Center for Medical Progress released a transcript that includes what the group says are excerpts of the recorded conversation along with a trailer with portions of the video.

The group, which said it planned to make the entire video public, alleged that the video showed that a StemExpress executive admitted receiving fully intact fetuses from Planned Parenthood.

StemExpress issued a statement describing the video as "heavily edited, highly-deceptive" and insisted the company had never asked, received or provided a researcher with an "intact fetus."

The firm said the conversation in the video was about "intact livers," which the company said "are among the most urgently needed of medical tissues by scientists and medical researchers working to cure cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease." 

For more news from Los Angeles County's civil courts, follow @sjceasar.