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Group Attacking Planned Parenthood Linked to Radicals

The group behind the recent spate of undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood of illegally selling “body parts from aborted fetuses” is tightly linked to some of the country’s hardest-line anti-abortion extremists.

The founder of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which disingenuously describes itself as a “group of citizen journalists,” is David Daleiden, who was previously the director of research for Live Action News, a group that produced earlier undercover videos also seeking to embarrass Planned Parenthood.

Those videos, like the more recent ones from CMP, were widely criticized for deceptive editing, which may explain why the biography of Daleiden on the CMP website does not mention Live Action at all.

Pants on fire: Troy Newman (from left), Cheryl Sullenger, and David Daleiden are among the principal promoters of deceptively edited videos meant to blacken the reputation of Planned Parenthood.

A CMP board member, Troy Newman, is also the president of Operation Rescue, a hard-line anti-abortion group that boasted of aiding the CMP “investigation” with advice and material support and has demanded “criminal prosecutions of Planned Parenthood officials.”

In 2003, Newman issued a press release attacking “judicial tyranny” in the prosecution of Paul Hill, who murdered an abortion doctor and his bodyguard in Florida, and arguing that Hill, who was executed the same day, should have been able to present a defense of “justifiable defensive action.” A 2004 Los Angeles Times story described Newman shadowing clinic workers and seeking “not just to make their lives uncomfortable” but also to “disgust their friends and associates.”

Operation Rescue’s second most important officer, Senior Policy Advisor Cheryl Sullenger, has her own radical history. In 1988, she was convicted of conspiring to bomb a San Diego abortion clinic and sentenced to three years in federal prison. The indictment said that Sullenger provided gunpowder and other material for the bomb and gave a wig to the man who actually planted it, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Sullenger has written repeatedly about CMP’s videos and even provided a link to its press release about one of them.

A second CMP board member is Albin Rhomberg, who The Daily Beast described as having “a long and strident history of anti-abortion activism.” One woman told the publication that Rhomberg followed her “for an entire city block, barely three feet away, filming and shouting at me about my evil work at Planned Parenthood.”

In releasing the first two of a promised series of videos, the CMP boasted that it had caught Planned Parenthood officials discussing the for-profit sale of human tissue and other illegal practices, and a number of right-leaning politicians reacted almost immediately. Pushed by then-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.

The CMP’s claims, however, were entirely false.

A whole array of news and other fact-checking organizations — from The Washington Post to Politifact to The New York Times editorial board — offered variations of NPR’s conclusion that the videos “contain no evidence that Planned Parenthood has done anything illegal.” The Times editorial board called CMP’s claims a “campaign of deception against Planned Parenthood.”

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.”

David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law and the author of a new book on anti-abortion terrorism, told ThinkProgress that CMP’s ties are telling. “There’s a direct connection between [Operation Rescue], the Center for Medical Progress and some of the worst characters in the anti-abortion extremist movement,” he said.