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Will Anti-Abortion Activist Out People in Fetal Tissue Research?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An anti-abortion activist may have short-lived success against the University of Washington's Birth Defects Research Laboratory following an appeals court decision.

David Daleiden, notoriously famous for releasing undercover videos of Planned Parenthood facilities, demanded the university produce documents about the purchase of fetal tissue, organs, and cells. A trial judge blocked his request after anonymous plaintiffs sued to protect their identifying information.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that order in Doe v. University of Washington, but remanded the case for the trial judge to make more specific findings about how releasing the information could harm the plaintiffs. It may not take much.

Threats, Harassment, and Violence

In the proposed class action, the trial judge said the plaintiffs' names would likely face threats, harassment, and even violence if their names were disclosed. Judge James Robart issued a preliminary injunction to protect them.

"Although we agree with the district court that there may be a basis for redaction where disclosure would likely result in threats, harassment, and violence, the court's order did not address how the Doe Plaintiffs have made the necessary clear showing with specificity as to the different individuals or groups of individuals who could be identified in the public records," the appeals court said.

The appeals court also said the trial judge must explain how the plaintiffs were engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment. They gave the trial judge 120 days to address the issues.

Potentially 600 Plaintiffs

The complaint seeks to protect the identities of approximately 600 people, according to the university. However, the appeals court noted that only 156 individuals received notices in the case.

Part of the problem with the preliminary injunction, the court said, was that the trial judge relied on a blanket finding that entire putative class was engaged in protected activity.

Daleiden, founder of the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress, meanwhile faces 15 felony counts for his surreptitious videos. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra charged him for privacy and conspiracy violations.

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