The employees say they fear harassment, backlash and violence if their names and other identifying information are released to an anti-abortion group.
A group of researchers and employees affiliated with the University of Washington’s Birth Defects Research Center has filed a federal class-action lawsuit and is seeking an injunction to prevent the release of its names to anti-abortion activists through a public-disclosure request.
The employees say they fear harassment, backlash and violence if their names and other identifying information — including some home addresses and telephone numbers — are turned over to the California-based Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group whose founder, David Daleiden, is responsible for the release of controversial “sting” videos about fetal-tissue experimentation and Planned Parenthood that resulted in a national furor last year.
Daleiden and Zachary Freeman, the communications director for the anti-abortion Family Policy Institute of Washington, are named as defendants in the lawsuit since they are seeking the release of the records through the Washington Public Records Act. The UW is named as a defendant as the agency preparing to release the information.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status and claims to represent as many as 150 plaintiffs in Washington and elsewhere who are affiliated with the UW’s Birth Defects Research Laboratory; Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Idaho; the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; the Cedar River Clinics; and Evergreen Hospital Medical Center.
Most Read Local Stories
- How to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Seattle, King County and Washington state
- Many of the earliest COVID ‘long-haulers’ still suffer; Seattle researchers are trying to figure out why
- Coronavirus daily news updates, January 25: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- DNA puts a name to one of the last unidentified victims of the Green River killer
- Stealth Navy SEAL training in 28 Washington state parks? Vote on expanded access is coming this week
The laboratory, according to the lawsuit, collects, stores and processes and distributes fetal tissue for academic and nonprofit research facilities around the country.
The case is before U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is being asked to identify former UW and Planned Parenthood workers who would be affected by the release of the information, and then issue an injunction ordering the UW not to release documents that identify them. A hearing has not been scheduled.
Last summer, Daleiden’s organization released a series of surreptitiously recorded videotapes purportedly showing Planned Parenthood officials engaged in selling fetal tissue culled from abortions. The tapes, some of which contained graphic images, caused an uproar and resulted in a congressional hearing and calls for investigations into Planned Parenthood operations in several states, including Washington.
The authenticity of the videos has been questioned and Planned Parenthood has denied allegations of selling fetal tissue.
In Washington state, Attorney General Bob Ferguson conducted an investigation and concluded in a 48-page report that there was no wrongdoing.
That report, along with an Oct. 3 Seattle Times story about the Birth Defects Research Laboratory, are what prompted the public-disclosure requests, Joseph Bacholm, the director of the Family Policy Institute, said in an interview.
Daleiden, in a statement Thursday, lashed out at Planned Parenthood for “demanding the suppression of public records about Planned Parenthood’s supply of aborted baby parts” to the laboratory, which he called a “taxpayer-sponsored, [National Institutes of Health]-funded fetal harvesting service at the University of Washington.”
The videos released by Daleiden focused heated attention on the already charged political climate and controversy surrounding abortion and, according to the lawsuit, “employees of such medical providers across the country, including in Washington State and including several individual … plaintiffs, have been harassed, threatened, or witnessed incidents of violence due to their possible affiliation with fetal tissue donations.”
“With the rancor Daleiden has fueled comes a threat of violence for individuals participating at any level in fetal tissue donation and research programs,” the lawsuit alleges, and points to the November 2015 shooting at a Colorado Springs, Colo., Planned Parenthood office that left three dead and nine wounded.
The lawsuit says that the plaintiffs do not oppose the release of laboratory documents or invoices to Daleiden or the Family Policy Institute, providing the names and other identifying information of employees are redacted.
The Public Records Act allows individuals to seek an injunction to prevent the release of information that might violate their privacy or put them in danger.
Bacholm, the director of the Family Police Institute, said he finds the lawsuit “fishy” and said the organization has no interest in identifying or harassing laboratory workers. “We don’t really care about them,” he said. “But I am suspicious of an attempt to withhold other information from us.”