MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday the 9th of May, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: exposing the abortion industry.
BASHAM: David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt ignited a firestorm of controversy. Their undercover investigation included secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood executives talking about their involvement in the fetal-tissue trade.
That was nearly four years ago. Since then, Daleiden and Merritt have faced civil and criminal lawsuits over their work.
EICHER: But on Good Friday, they received encouraging news.
The California Supreme Court ordered the lower court to cancel preliminary hearings against Daleiden and Merritt. That order put a halt to further proceedings in the criminal case. It’s a small victory that buys Daleiden and Merritt’s defense some time.
BASHAM: WORLD Radio correspondent Katie Gaultney joins us now to talk about the case and what might be coming next.
Katie, what brought about this unexpected delay in prosecuting Daleiden and Merritt?
KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Well, “unexpected” is right. Lawyers for Daleiden and Merritt expected to begin a two-week hearing on April 22nd. It was supposed to determine if there was enough evidence to warrant criminal prosecution. Now they’re waiting to see if a trial will even proceed. As for why, I spoke with one of Daleiden’s attorneys, Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society.
BREJCHA: The California Supreme Court and its chief justice handed down a wonderfully welcome order saying that the preliminary hearing is now put off indefinitely until they have time to consider the entire petition for review, whether they’ll take the case on appeal. We hope they’ll take as much time as they need to consider. Maybe you put a stop to this criminal case.
BASHAM: Ok, so let’s take a step back. Remind us why Daleiden and Merritt are facing trial to begin with.
GAULTNEY: Sure, I’ll back up a little bit to 2015. Daleiden posed as the head of a made-up medical research group called the Center for Medical Progress. Under that guise he set up meetings with representatives from Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, or NAF. Those meetings took place at abortion industry conventions and in public places, like restaurants. He got these abortion workers to admit to actually harvesting and selling the body parts of aborted babies for research. He also recorded them talking in detail about late-term abortion procedures. Well, Planned Parenthood, NAF, and some of their affiliates sued Daleiden and Merritt after the videos came out.
BASHAM: What was the basis for their suit? Profiting from the sale of aborted babies is illegal under federal law, right? Seems like the abortion industry executives should be the ones in hot water.
GAULTNEY: Right. But the organizations claim Daleiden and Merritt made those recordings illegally. California is a two-party consent state, and obviously the abortion industry executives didn’t know Daleiden was recording them. They’re claiming non-consensual eavesdropping and conspiracy to invade privacy. Fifteen felony counts total. Daleiden says he’s protected by the First Amendment, since he was acting as an undercover journalist. But his accusers say he was strictly trying to entrap them for ideological reasons.
BASHAM: You said the organizations filed suit in 2015. Catch us up to where we are today, almost four years later.
GAULTNEY: It’s been a long slog for Daleiden and his team. The abortion groups filed civil suits against them. Then, abortion-friendly officials pressed criminal charges against Daleiden in Houston and San Francisco. A Houston judge eventually dismissed the criminal case against him there. But over and over, Daleiden is up against judges and prosecutors who are very biased in favor of the abortion industry. For example, Planned Parenthood supported California Attorney General Xavier Becerra with a campaign donation.
BASHAM: Even with that bias, surely the evidence Daleiden and Merritt collected is strong enough to give their defense some weight?
GAULTNEY: That’s one of the most frustrating parts of all this, and it fits right in with our discussion about bias. In 2015, San Francisco judge William Orrick instituted a gag order in the case. It suppressed the release of those incriminating videos. Orrick also said they couldn’t be shown in open court. Daleiden’s attorneys say that hamstrings their defense. And not surprisingly, Orrick has a conflict of interest: at the time he granted the injunction, he served on the board of a hospital that donates space to a Planned Parenthood abortion center. And his wife had recently voiced support for the abortion giant on Facebook.
BASHAM: Well, at least for now Daleiden and Merritt and their attorneys have some breathing room. But just remind us what they’re facing if they lose this case.
GAULTNEY: Tom Brejcha told me if Daleiden and Merritt lose, they could be on the hook for insurmountable legal fees for their accusers and potential jail time. And of course it would set a very sad precedent for our country in terms of free speech and defending the sanctity of life.
BASHAM: It certainly would. Katie Gaultney is a WORLD Radio correspondent based in Dallas, Texas. Katie, thank you for bringing us this report.
GAULTNEY: You’re welcome, Megan.