How a discredited anti-abortion group used the anti-choice media ecosystem to do its dirty work

CMP seemingly tried to avoid an injunction by circulating video footage to anti-choice and right-wing media outlets, rather than publishing it

On May 25, the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a new smear video against the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood. This footage was removed that evening because a district judge had “barred it from release.” Given this injunction, it seems notable that CMP didn’t publicly release or promote the video, and instead relied on anti-choice and right-wing media outlets to spread its claim.

CMP bypassed its website and social media and left its latest video unlisted on YouTube

Center for Medical Progress released an unlisted video on YouTube with never-before-published footage. On May 25, anti-choice groups began circulating the link to a never-before-published video from CMP titled “Preview” that included a montage of footage from National Abortion Federation conferences. The video could be accessed only via the link since it was unlisted on YouTube. Neither CMP nor its founder, David Daleiden, linked to or mentioned the videos on their Twitter accounts or on CMP’s website. The video was removed from YouTube the same evening. [YouTube, 5/25/17 (since removed)]

There has been an injunction against the release of new footage featuring NAF employees since February. In February, federal judge William Orrick had issued a preliminary injunction against the release of any footage depicting NAF members or meetings by CMP, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants were to release NAF materials.” As a result, CMP was forbidden from releasing any new video footage taken at NAF events Daleiden attended, or that featured NAF personnel. [Media Matters2/8/16]

Another link circulated of an unlisted playlist featuring CMP footage barred from release by a court order. On May 25, a link began to circulate of an unlisted playlist on YouTube that contained footage of abortion providers and pro-choice activists at a NAF event. Steve Cooley & Associates (SCA), a law firm representing Daleiden, released a link to the playlist along with the identifying information of the speakers in the videos on its website, claiming that it was able to do so because there “is no protective order in place in state court that would protect the names of the Does and David is entitled to a public defense.” The list of names and a link to the playlist were later removed from the website. [Steve Cooley & Associates, accessed May 2017]

Daleiden may face contempt charges following the release of the barred footage. On May 26, The Associated Press reported that Orrick was considering holding Daleiden in contempt of court for releasing the unlisted videos. One of Daleiden’s attorneys confirmed the release of the videos to the judge in a conference call; the unlisted video and playlist were subsequently removed following an order from Judge Orrick. From The Associated Press:

A federal judge said Thursday he will consider holding the leader of an anti-abortion group in contempt after links to videos that the judge had barred from release appeared on the website of the man’s attorneys.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered David Daleiden and his attorneys, Steve Cooley and Brentford J. Ferreira, to appear at a June 14 hearing to consider contempt sanctions.


Orrick issued a preliminary injunction that blocked the release of videos made by the Center for Medical Progress at meetings of the National Abortion Federation, an association of abortion providers. He also blocked the release of any names of NAF members.


Orrick said another attorney for Daleiden, Catherine Short, confirmed during a conference call with him on Thursday that links to barred videos and the names of at least 11 NAF members had appeared on Cooley and Ferreira’s website. Neither Daleiden nor Cooley or Ferreira participated in the call, Orrick said.

Orrick ordered any video links and references to the identities of any NAF members taken down. [The Associated Press via The Washington Post, 5/26/17]

Anti-choice media outlets and activists quickly spread the video, even without an official press release from CMP

May 24

8:43 p.m. EST: The Next Right Step blog published an unreleased press statement from Daleiden’s lawyers promoting the unlisted playlist. Before any anti-choice groups or right-wing media outlets began publishing reactions to CMP’s video, the blog The Next Right Step (TNRS) posted an unreleased press statement from Daleiden’s lawyers promoting the unlisted playlist. The statement explained that despite instructions from the court that the footage and names on the unlisted playlist remain “confidential,” “David is entitled to a public defense” and that there was “no protective order in place in state court that would protect the names.” The post also mentions Sandra Merritt, who worked with Daleiden to surreptitiously record abortion providers under false pretenses. From TNRS’ blog post:

Although Daleiden and [CMP co-conspirator Sandra] Merritt were very publicly accused of committing 15 felonies, their accusers were listed in the complaint anonymously as Does 1 through 14. An SCA request for the names of the Does was ignored and SCA filed a demurrer to the Complaint on May 3, 2017, at the time set for arraignment.

On May 9, 2017, after the demurrer was filed, the Attorney General sent SCA a password-protected list of Does 1 through 14, stating that the names were somehow confidential, rather than amending the publicly filed complaint to publicly list David’s accusers. There is no protective order in place in state court that would protect the names of the Does, and David is entitled to a public defense. [The Next Right Step, 5/24/17]

May 25

12:01 a.m. EST: Media Research Center (MRC) published the first article hyping the claims made in CMP’s “Preview.” Early May 25, Media Research Center (MRC) published an article promoting CMP’s unlisted video. According to MRC, the video “includes a variety of people associated with Planned Parenthood discussing the saving [of] limbs and brains.” MRC repeated claims by Daleiden’s lawyers that allegations against the organization were “entirely political” and included a link to the unlisted playlist of footage identifying a number of abortion providers. [Media Research Center, 5/25/17

12:01 a.m. EST: National Review published an article about “Preview.” National Review also published its own promotional account of “Preview” shortly after midnight on May 25. The magazine claimed the video “exposes the grisly reality of ripping apart fetuses” and said it was “a preview of footage that CMP investigators gathered at the 2014 and 2015 National Abortion Federation conventions.” [National Review, 5/25/17]

5:47 a.m. EST: The anti-abortion political organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) tweeted about what it called a “shocking new” video from CMP and linked to the National Review article.

8:15 a.m. EST: Anti-choice activist Lila Rose, who founded the group Live Action, tweeted that a new CMP video showed “Planned Parenthood ‘doctors’ at trade show” and linked to the National Review article.

8:33 a.m. EST: The anti-abortion group Students for Life of America (SFLA) tweeted a link to National Review’s article about the latest CMP video.

8:45 a.m. EST: SFLA tweeted that a “New Planned Parenthood ‘Baby Body Parts’ Video” had been uploaded and linked to MRC’s article.

8:49 a.m. EST: SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser tweeted a link to National Review’s article with the comments “Horrifying” and “#DefundPP.”

9:21 a.m. EST: Live Action News promoted CMP’s video with the warning that there was “more footage potentially to come.” Live Action News published an article promoting the latest CMP video and warning that there was “more footage potentially to come.” The article continued that although there was currently an injunction against the release of any footage from NAF conferences, the preview “gives some hints as to why NAF wants to keep what goes on at the convention hidden from the public.” [Live Action News, 5/25/17]

9:30 a.m. EST: Life News claimed the video showed “Planned Parenthood executives discussing … the sale of body parts from aborted babies for profit.” Life News published its account of CMP’s “Preview,” saying it showed “Planned Parenthood executives discussing … the sale of body parts from aborted babies for profit.” [Life News, 5/25/17]

9:45 a.m. EST: LifeSite News called the video a “compilation of extremely candid comments abortionists ... made about decapitating babies and selling their livers, heads, and limbs.” LifeSite News’ article highlighted out-of-context phrases from the video, calling it “a compilation of extremely candid comments abortionists and Planned Parenthood executives made about decapitating babies and selling their livers, heads, and limbs.” [LifeSite News, 5/25/17]

9:55 a.m. EST: Fox News contributor Erick Erickson tweeted about the unlisted CMP video, linking to National Review’s article.

10:05 a.m. EST: SBA List issued a press release sharing CMP’s video and the unlisted playlist. Hours after its initial tweet, SBA List issued an official press release about the CMP video, claiming it shows “abortion industry members describing, in brutal detail, late term abortions.” SBA List also implored followers to view the unlisted playlist that identified abortion providers on SCA’s website. [Susan B. Anthony List, 5/25/17]

10:28 a.m. EST: SBA List released a video montage featuring footage from the unlisted CMP video. SBA List also shared a link to a video montage on the organization’s Facebook page. The video describe CMP’s latest release as the “footage that proves President Trump was right” about abortion. Despite orders from a district judge to remove all footage from circulation, the video remained on SBA List’s Facebook page after the unlisted CMP video and playlist were removed as of 11:30 p.m. EST on May 25. [Facebook, Susan B. Anthony List, 5/25/17]

10:53 a.m. EST: SBA List’s communication director, Mallory Quigley, tweeted a link to National Review’s article and tagged several right-wing radio hosts.

11:03 a.m. EST: The Twitter account for Unborn Civil Rights -- the anti-choice organization run by extremist Alveda King -- tweeted about the CMP video by linking to LifeSite News’ article.

11:08 a.m. EST: The anti-choice organization and LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council tweeted a link to the National Review article.

11:20 a.m. EST: The extreme anti-choice organization Radiance Foundation tweeted about CMP’s video and linked directly to the unlisted YouTube video.

By 11:30 a.m., the story had spread from anti-choice platforms to broader right-wing media outlets

Video spreads from anti-choice platforms to right-wight media outlets. After circulating in the anti-choice media ecosystem, the unlisted CMP video spread to other right-wing media outlets. For example, The Daily Signal wrote about the unlisted video, saying that CMP “expose[d] horrifying statements from leaders within the abortion industry.” Despite the injunction still in place, many right-wing outlets reported the names and remarks of the providers and activists in the video. While the video has been removed, WorldNetDaily continued promoting it on its site, while the other reports in right-wing media remain available. [The Daily Signal, 5/25/17; WorldNetDaily, 5/25/17; The Washington Times, 5/25/17; News Busters, 5/25/17; Townhall, 5/25/17; Conservative Review, 5/25/17; Breitbart, 5/25/17; One News Now, 5/25/17]

CMP’s work has been discredited and those involved now face multiple indictments

The anti-choice group CMP has released numerous deceptive videos attacking Planned Parenthood -- all of which have been debunked. Since July 2015, CMP has released multiple videos containing undercover discussions with Planned Parenthood personnel and staff members of private, for-profit biomedical procurement companies. CMP has claimed that its videos show that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue and altering abortion procedures in order to profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that the footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, and that the words of Planned Parenthood personnel who were secretly filmed have been “grossly [taken] out of context.” [Media Matters, 8/31/15]

Growing number of Planned Parenthood investigations have cleared the organization of any wrongdoing. CMP’s deceptively edited videos have spurred at least 13 states to launch investigations into Planned Parenthood's operations, even though there are “only three states in which Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics can participate in fetal tissue donation programs,” according to Yahoo News. All 13 states -- Massachusetts, Indiana, South Dakota, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Kansas, Washington, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina -- and the Department of Health and Human Services have announced that they found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood or known violations of federal fetal tissue laws. [Media Matters, 8/24/15]

California’s attorney general charged two members of CMP with 15 felony charges. On April 3, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra charged Daleiden and Merritt with 15 felony charges for recording private conversations with Planned Parenthood officials without their consent. The pair was charged with 14 counts of unlawful recording of private conversations and one count of conspiracy to invade privacy with those recordings. [Rewire, 3/29/17]