SAN FRANCISCO — Planned Parenthood has made an unusual legal demand to join California’s criminal prosecution of two antiabortion activists charged with invasion of privacy for secretly making videos as they tried to buy fetal material from the organization.
A judge in San Francisco will consider the issue Monday as well as a push by prosecutors to keep the names of 14 abortion-rights workers who appear in the 2015 videos confidential.
The California attorney general in 2017 charged David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress after Texas prosecutors dropped a similar case against them. The pair have pleaded not guilty and argue they are undercover journalists shielded from prosecution.
Daleiden and Merritt were accused of secretly making videos that Planned Parenthood argued were heavily edited to unfairly show workers agreeing to sell fetal material for profit, which the group says it does not do. The videos led to three congressional inquiries and criminal investigations in at least 15 states.
Several abortion-rights workers plan to testify at another court hearing next week in San Francisco that will determine if there’s enough evidence for Daleiden and Merritt to face trial. Defense attorneys say their names should be made public.
Planned Parenthood says it wants to join the prosecution for the safety of the workers scheduled to testify. The group’s attorneys say they want the ability to object to defense questions that could identify or otherwise jeopardize the workers’ safety. They fear receiving threats from antiabortion activists.
The judge also is deciding whether to close the courtroom to the public when video clips are shown.
A federal judge presiding over Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress last year barred release of the videos.
Daleiden and Merritt sneaked into numerous Planned Parenthood meetings and other abortion-rights gatherings and shot undercover videos of their attempts to buy fetal material. They published the videos in 2015.
Planned Parenthood says it doesn’t sell fetal material for profit and charged only modest expenses to cover costs of donating it for medical research. The organization stopped seeking reimbursement for its shipping costs, and it never faced charges.
In one instance, a grand jury in Texas declined to indict Planned Parenthood and instead filed charges against the pair for using fake driver’s licenses to get into Planned Parenthood meetings.
Those charges were dropped in 2017, the same year California Attorney General Xavier Beccera charged Daleiden and Merritt with 14 counts each of invasion of privacy.