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PETA, other animal rights groups back pro-life activist facing multimillion dollar lawsuit

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Strange bedfellows

Activist David Daleiden (Eric Kayne/Getty Images)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and several other animal rights and free speech groups are backing a pro-life activist who is facing a multimillion dollar lawsuit for exposing, through undercover journalism, Planned Parenthood's alleged practice of harvesting and selling aborted baby parts.

The organizations — which include PETA, Animal Outlook, Mercy For Animals, Inc., the Government Accountability Project — came to activist David Daleiden's defense in a recently filed amici curiae brief, the Washington Free Beacon reported Thursday. An amici curiae brief is a persuasive legal document filed by one or many outside parties to assist the court, usually during a case's appeal process.

In the filing, the groups informed the court that they "have an interest in preserving robust constitutional protections for speech (and the precursors of speech) and for those who gather news and report on matters of public concern," adding, "[we] have a strong interest in ensuring that individuals remain able to use undercover methods to investigate and report on matters that might otherwise remain unavailable or inaccessible to the public, continuing an American tradition of important journalism conducted using undercover techniques."

Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, made headlines in 2015 when they secretly taped Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal organs obtained through abortion procedures. Daleiden, along with his collaborator, Sandra Merritt, gained access to officials working for the abortion provider by posing as representatives of BioMax, a fake biomedical research company they started.

In addition to a federal grand jury's ruling that the pro-life activist should pay more than $2 million in damages to the abortion provider, Daleiden was ultimately hit with a $16 million judgment by a district court in northern California for the publication of the undercover videos. Now, Daleiden is appealing the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in San Francisco.

In the brief, the groups contend that undercover journalism like the kind Daleiden engaged in is constitutionally protected free speech that, throughout history, has exposed numerous occasions of wrongdoing.

"The deception-based techniques used by journalists, activists, and whistleblowers are absolutely necessary to access facts hidden from public view and thereby enable accurate stories," the groups wrote. "Examples include the use of investigative deception to reveal animal abuse and food-safety issues in factory farms, living conditions in welfare hotels, working conditions in New York sweatshops, working conditions of low-wage retail jobs in the United States, the availability of drugs in prisons, and deplorable conditions at a military hospital."

The Free Beacon noted that, in addition to the groups mentioned above, attorneys general from 20 states also filed a brief on behalf of the pro-life activist.

The Thomas More Society, the firm representing Daleiden, said that the groups' defense of the pro-life activist is "an indicator of how widespread the concern is over the abrogation of First Amendment rights."

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