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Missouri AG sues Planned Parenthood over Project Veritas video involving fictional girl

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a lawsuit Thursday against Planned Parenthood, relying on a staged, edited video from a right-wing group to accuse the organization of illegally transporting minors out of state for abortions.

The lawsuit is against Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which has clinics in the Kansas City region and Columbia.

Bailey is using as evidence a video filmed and edited by Project Veritas, a self-proclaimed conservative news organization founded in 2010 that often conducts undercover stings. Its now-ousted founder, James O’Keefe, is currently under investigation by New York authorities, and the organization has a long history of spreading claims that are later discredited.

In the video, a Kansas City area Planned Parenthood employee tells a man pretending to have a pregnant niece that she can help the 13-year-old get an abortion in Kansas without her parents’ knowledge.

“This lawsuit is the culmination of a multi-year campaign to drive Planned Parenthood from the State of Missouri because of its flagrant and intentional refusal to comply with state law,” Bailey wrote on social media. “ …It is time to eradicate Planned Parenthood once and for all to end this pattern of abhorrent, unethical, and illegal behavior.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat running for governor, said at a press conference Thursday that this is the latest in a series of “frivolous” lawsuits filed by Missouri attorneys general in recent years. Quade said she expects this lawsuit, like others, to ultimately be thrown out.

“Claiming that Planned Parenthood, who is a service provider who makes sure that our folks in the state of Missouri are healthy, are a part of a human trafficking ring or whatever he is saying at this point, is just ridiculous….” Quade said. “This is just another lawsuit just to try to get some headlines in an election year.”

The video, posted in December by Project Veritas, shows a man pretending to be a concerned uncle asking a Planned Parenthood location in the Kansas City area about abortion services for a non-existent 13-year-old niece.

The man secretly taping the interaction for Project Veritas told the Planned Parenthood employees that the girl’s parents couldn’t know. Staff then directed him to their affiliates in Kansas where they said he could “bypass” parental consent.

The man then asks how often girls go out of state for abortions. The Planned Parenthood employee said it happens every day.

“Violating the ‘deeply rooted’ right of parents and the laws of Missouri, Planned Parenthood is inducing minors into making life-changing — and life-ending — decisions without parental consent,” the lawsuit reads.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, noted that Bailey tweeted about the lawsuit before it was officially filed in the courthouse.

“This is a press release dressed up as legal action from an unelected attorney general,” Wales said. “It is based on ‘evidence’ from fraudulent, extreme anti-abortion actors, who claim to be ‘journalists.’”

The lawsuit has not yet been scanned into the statewide court system, but a Boone County court clerk confirmed to The Independent that they received the lawsuit Thursday morning.

A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said the Project Veritas video was taken without staff’s knowledge, and was “heavily doctored and edited.”

They added that Planned Parenthood Great Plains does not provide any form of transportation directly to any patients, regardless of age or where they live.

“We will continue following state and federal laws,” Wales said. “And proudly providing Missourians with the compassionate sexual and reproductive care that remains available to them in a state with a total abortion ban.”

The lawsuit makes no reference to Kansas law, which states that physicians are required to have either parental consent or go through the judicial bypass process where a judge can authorize a minor to get an abortion without parental consent.

Under Missouri law, written before nearly all abortions became illegal in Missouri, no one can assist a minorin getting an abortion without the physician first having informed written consent of the minor and one parent or guardian, as long as the other parent or guardian has been notified in writing. However, parents do not have to give informed consentin cases where they victimized the child or are on a sex offender registry, for example.

Michael Wolff, a former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice and dean emeritus at St. Louis University School of Law, said his first question about the lawsuit is whether a fictional story is admissible in court.

Because in reality, he said, the lawsuit does not prove whether anyone has broken the law.

“So far we’re dealing with fiction,” Wolff said. “This is at base a highly political lawsuit and it’s very much presenting the courts with a hypothetical question. Courts don’t like to address hypothetical questions. They address real cases.”

He also asked whether the state has an interest in determining if children are forbidden from going across state lines for care, a right he said is granted to all U.S. citizens. Even though Missouri statute states a person can’t assist a child in obtaining an abortion, Wolff noted that every citizen has a right to travel interstate.

He added that if the fictional child got medical care in Kansas, there is nothing in the lawsuit that determines whether that care was in compliance with Kansas law.

Noting Bailey’s use of the word “trafficked,” Wolff said the politicized word jumps to the conclusion that this fictional child was being taken to Kansas against her will.

Wolff said the lawsuit is well-timed and well-placed for political purposes.

Bailey announced the lawsuit aftertaking heat from his opponent in the Republican attorney general primary, Will Scharf, who accused him of botching lawsuits against Planned Parenthood in the past.

“Andrew Bailey’s incompetence is hurting the pro-life cause in Missouri,” Scharf posted on social media last week, saying Bailey failed to effectively litigatea recent case in which the state Supreme Court sided with Planned Parenthood, ruling it was unconstitutional for the legislature to defund Planned Parenthood through the budget.

On Wednesday, the Missouri House pressed on with a new tactic, this time giving initial approval to a Republican-backedbill seeking to block Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthoodclinics in Missouri, which no longer provide abortions, but instead provide health care needs such as STI testing, contraceptives and cancer screenings.

The Project Veritas video has been used in defense of an identical bill in the Senate, sponsored by state Sens. Mary Elizabeth Coleman and Nick Schroer, both Republicans.

During a January Senate health and welfare committee hearing, Schroer told his colleagues the “very disturbing” video shows Planned Parenthood “diverting minors without parental consent.”

Jordon Weldon, who referred to Project Veritas as a collection of journalists, told senators the man in the video had posed as an uncle of a 13-year-old in need of an abortion.

State Sen. Barbara Washington, a Democrat from Kansas City, asked if either Weldon, who flew in to testify from New York, or the man who recorded the video, have journalism degrees.

Weldon, Project Veritas’ communications director, said they do not.

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