On May 25, the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted link to a smear video on YouTube that was quickly picked up by anti-choice media. CMP was forced to remove the video from YouTube after a judge ruled that the footage violated an order barring its release, originally issued to protect abortion providers from threats and harassment. In response, anti-abortion media outlets that had previously promoted the footage re-posted the video and doubled down on spreading it -- in spite of the court order -- claiming YouTube had engaged in “censorship” and urging followers to watch it.
CMP founder David Daleiden is the subject of multiple legal actions for his role in producing deceptively edited smear videos attacking Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (NAF). After CMP began releasing videos in 2015, the FBI issued an intelligence assessment that warned of an uptick in violence against abortion providers and clinics -- a warning that was tragically borne out in November 2015 when Robert Dear allegedly killed three people and injured several more at a Colorado Planned Parenthood center.
As a result of these risks, federal Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction against the release of any footage depicting NAF members or meetings, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants [CMP] were to release NAF materials.”
Typically, CMP videos have been posted on the organization’s YouTube page and announced with a press release on its website. On May 25, however, neither Daleiden nor CMP acknowledged that there was a new video on YouTube. Instead, anti-choice media outlets and organizations circulated a link to an unlisted YouTube video and promoted it widely. By later that evening, The Associated Press had reported that Orrick was considering holding Daleiden in contempt for releasing the unlisted video and an unlisted playlist of other footage involving NAF members; he ultimately ordered that both be removed from YouTube.
Nevertheless, by the morning of May 26, anti-choice media began drawing attention to the video’s removal and, in some instances, reposting it in full.
For example, the Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) communication director, Mallory Quigley appeared on the Eternal World Television News’ radio program Morning Glory to discuss the removed video and direct listeners to where they could still view the footage on SBA List’s Facebook page. Shortly after, SBA List retweeted several messages from Morning Glory co-host Gloria Purvis declaring that anti-choice advocates “won’t be quiet” about the video and posted a link to view the full footage.
The link posted by SBA List was then shared by the anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America -- along with a message that accused Planned Parenthood and NAF of trying to hide “illegal activity” by getting the YouTube video removed.
LifeSite News published an article explaining that it had “saved a copy of the video” and was posting it on its website “without the consent or knowledge of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, or his attorneys.”
Anti-choice violence is a serious issue, the consequences of which are often left out of cable news conversations about abortion or reproductive rights. In 2017, NAF released a report noting a disturbing trend of escalating threats and harassment against abortion providers the previous year. According to NAF, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats” as well as “an escalation in hate speech and internet harassment, which intensified following the election in November.”
Although anti-abortion groups complained about the “censorship” of removing the unlisted CMP video, their efforts to initially spread and continually promote it -- in spite of a court order -- demonstrate the dangers of the anti-choice media ecosystem: It is a self-actualizing echochamber for misinformation and targeted harassment of abortion providers.