One of the most pernicious bits of disinformation spread prior to the fall of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 was the product of a right-wing “medical” group that was actually the disinformation-riddled brainchild of anti-abortion activists.
Planned Parenthood first came under attack by the “Center for Medical Progress” (CMP) in 2015 after the release of a series of edited videos purportedly showing that the healthcare organization made money through the “illegal sale of aborted baby parts.”
As the Southern Poverty Law Center reported at the time:
The CMP, which created a fake biomedical company for the sole purpose of trying to trap Planned Parenthood officials into selling body parts for profit, had taken hours of undercover video and edited it down to eight- and nine-minute videos.
When the tapes are viewed in their entirety, it is obvious that the Planned Parenthood officials only charged biomedical companies that use the tissue for research for costs like storage and transportation — which is completely legal and accepted practice for tissue donors. That didn’t stop CMP from baldly accusing Planned Parenthood of the “illegal sale of body parts from aborted fetuses.”
For example, as CNN reported, CMP founder David Daleiden used a photograph of a stillborn child taken in 2013 and passed it off in one of the videos as an “aborted fetus”:
“Was it clear?” Fretz asks herself in a CNN interview, “No it was not clear. Was it deceitful? I don’t know that.”
Daleiden told CNN the fact that the photo is not an actual photo of an aborted fetus makes no difference. He insists the fetus is the same age as the one referred to in his film, and he used it only as an illustration.
Despite this, the group’s disinformation was laundered through right-wing political channels — a tactic that would become even more prevalent in the years since the videos were released:
Pushed by House Speaker John Boehner, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee began an investigation of Planned Parenthood, and the governors of several states have promised to do the same. Numerous Republicans also are trying to end all federal funding for the organization.
At least fifteen states launched their own investigations into the allegations of Planned Parenthood — and as NPR reported, none of them found any evidence that the group was “selling body parts.” A separate investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform also found no evidence for the CMP’s claims.
After the debunking of his group’s videos, Daleiden and his cohorts have suffered legal losses; in November 2019 a federal jury awarded Planned Parenthood $2.2 million in damages in a lawsuit. In December 2020, District Judge William Orrick III separately ordered the CMP to pay $13 million in legal fees to Planned Parenthood. The CMP has appealed both orders.
Update 6/27/2022, 5:48 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag