Court mostly upholds verdict against activists behind undercover Planned Parenthood videos but gives Democrats a chance to appeal
In a ruling that stunned the political world, the Supreme Court largely upheld the conviction and jailing of two activists associated with a secretive political anti-abortion group called Live Action, which uploaded undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts that were later found to be unrelated to any medical need.
On Tuesday the justices let stand a decision by a lower court, which had struck down their earlier ruling that had dismissed the videos as a violation of the law.
The court’s 5-4 decision is more sweeping than it would have seemed just a week ago, in light of new developments — namely, the release of videos in which undercover operatives for Planned Parenthood say the organization was selling fetal tissue to pay for the removal of ectopic pregnancies, the remnants of missed abortions.
The videos were created by “astounding” legal powerhouse, the American Center for Law and Justice, the first of its kind to bring an undercover video to court.
In the lower court ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that, although Live Action’s operation “has long been criticized for exploiting the law to spread a particular ideological agenda,” the group had demonstrated “little basis to believe that it had engaged in any wrongdoing.”
In short, the new evidence demonstrates the activists’ conduct was not illegal, and that is a decision they will be able to appeal. And while that appeal will begin next week, the court’s judgment is likely to be stayed until the justices complete their review and vote on the case.
The other 2 justices, the conservatives Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, would have refused to hear the case altogether, leaving it to the lower court to decide what happened.
In the end, they only affirmed the lower court’s decision that the videos — which showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing where and how they’d get rid of fetal tissue — were not illegal, a decision that will have implications for the legality of undercover operations that have exposed Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal tissue.
The activists involved in the Live Action videos were convicted in federal court in Oregon. They are:
Peter Ham, 36, a former University of Missouri journalism student who helped organize the first undercover videos from Planned Parenthood in