Judge Prohibits Release of Undercover Pro-Life Activist's Recordings

Activist accuses judge of violating First Amendment

David Daleiden, a defendant in an indictment stemming from a Planned Parenthood video he helped produce, speaks to the media after appearing in court at the Harris County Courthouse on February 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
April 9, 2021

A judge permanently banned the release of undercover videos that show Planned Parenthood employees discussed the alleged sale of fetal body parts.

William Orrick, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, ruled Wednesday that pro-life videographer David Daleiden was in breach of contract when he secretly recorded videos of the National Abortion Federation's conferences. The ruling bars Daleiden from ever releasing the videos he recorded at the conference, meaning hundreds of hours of footage will never see the light of day.

"The defendants' First Amendment arguments do not defeat preclusion or otherwise weigh against entry of judgment on the breach of contract claim," Orrick wrote.

Attorneys for the Thomas More Society, the law firm representing Daleiden, said they plan on appealing the ruling. Firm vice president and senior counsel Peter Breen said the court's ruling violated journalistic freedom.

"This permanent injunction covering up the release of incriminating video from a large abortion trade show strikes at the heart of the First Amendment," Breen said. "The American people deserve to see and hear what the abortion providers of this country are willing to say and do to skirt and even violate the law."

Daleiden's videos purportedly show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue. Daleiden's legal representation has argued that he used tactics similar to other undercover journalists. A coalition of groups including PETA and free speech organizations filed briefs on behalf of Daleiden, arguing that his tactics echoed those of whistleblowers in the past.

The ruling is the latest in a long line of developments in the legal conflicts surrounding Daleiden's work as an undercover journalist. Last year, Orrick ruled that Daleiden had to pay more than $13 million to cover Planned Parenthood's legal fees. Daleiden filed a defamation suit against Planned Parenthood in September alleging the organization launched a smear campaign against him to distract from the content of Daleiden's videos.

Orrick's role in the legal proceedings has also come under scrutiny due to his past financial support of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Northern California. Daleiden's attorneys unsuccessfully attempted to get Orrick removed from the case.