The Supreme Court on Monday denied a request to block a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood against a group that secretly filmed employees and later released a video, allowing it to go forward in lower courts.
Planned Parenthood alleges that the conduct of the anti-abortion rights group, the Center for Medical Progress, violated numerous state laws. The group argued that Planned Parenthood’s suit was barred by California’s “anti-SLAPP” statute, which stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation.
Monday’s ruling, issued without comment, leaves intact a federal appeals court ruling rejecting that argument.
The suit, first brought by Planned Parenthood in January 2016, was in response to the release of the heavily edited videos produced in 2015 by the Center for Medical Progress, which secretly taped Planned Parenthood officials talking about the sale of fetal tissue.
The videos sparked a political firestorm, with Republican lawmakers accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale and and spurring repeated efforts in Congress and states to block funding for the organization. Planned Parenthood officials have maintained that the group does not profit from its sale of tissue donations to medical research and uses any money received to cover its costs.
The Monday ruling from the high court allowed the solidly conservative body to stay out of the “messy dispute” on abortion rights, according to Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“The anti-abortion group had tried to rely upon California’s ‘anti-SLAPP’ statute to argue that Planned Parenthood was trying to chill their First Amendment rights rather than sue them on legitimate grounds,” Vladeck said.
“The Court of Appeals rejected that argument, holding that Planned Parenthood’s claims were more than strong enough to overcome the anti-SLAPP statute, and allowing their case to go forward,” he added. “By leaving that ruling intact, the justices today stayed out, at least for now, of a messy dispute over alleged mischaracterizations of Planned Parenthood’s abortion-related activities.”
Planned Parenthood contends Center for Medical Progress engaged in crimes including wire and mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing. The lawsuit calls for damages and a court order barring the group from entering Planned Parenthood facilities under false pretenses and covertly recording the group’s officials and business.