I believe this is known as cutting your losses. Caught up in a firestorm of controversy over its connections to Planned Parenthood and facing questions from a former employee over whether informed consent was given for organ harvesting in their clinics, StemExpress said adios to its partner today. The move came after members of Congress had also demanded an explanation of the tissue bank’s relationship with the nation’s largest abortion chain:
StemExpress, one of the tissue companies that works with Planned Parenthood, is cutting its ties with the women’s health organization after a series of sting videos that have prompted congressional inquiries, sources tell POLITICO.
The small biomedical tissue procurement company is distancing itself from Planned Parenthood after finding itself tangentially linked to what abortion opponents allege is Planned Parenthood’s illegal trafficking of fetal tissue and organs.
Both StemExpress and Planned Parenthood have denied doing anything illegal or improper. They say that they only facilitated the donation of tissue for medical research with a patient’s consent.
StemExpress, a five-year-old company based in Placerville, Calif., notified Planned Parenthood and Congress Friday of its decision to end the relationship, the source said. The House Energy and Commerce and the Senate Judiciary committees had asked StemExpress to explain its relationship with Planned Parenthood.
It appears that a harmonic convergence of sorts descended on StemExpress. The video released on Wednesday from Center for Medical Progress featured an in-depth interview with former “procurement technician” Holly O’Donnell, in which she stated that StemExpress technicians had harvested organs from the fetuses of women who had in fact not given consent — in at least one case, in direct contravention of an informed refusal.
Is that a common practice at StemExpress? O’Donnell makes it sound like something more than an isolated anomaly, certainly. Perhaps StemExpress wants to push back from Planned Parenthood and let them deal with the consent issues, but given O’Donnell’s description of these processes, it’s a little late to think that ending the partnership will solve that problem entirely.
And let’s not forget that CMP has video of StemExpress officials taken during the undercover investigation too, video that they have tried very hard to suppress. Those efforts took a body blow yesterday in court, when CMP filed an anti-SLAPP response to a temporary restraining order. The court refused to allow StemExpress to execute discovery on the initial lawsuit, as Ken White at Popehat explains, and it looks like the TRO will not last much longer:
StemExpress’ initial success now appears unlikely to continue. CMP has filed a well-drafted anti-SLAPP motion attacking the StemExpress complaint. I’ve explained how anti-SLAPP motions work before. If you’re being sued for speech, and you believe the speech is protected, you can file the motion, lay the factual framework for the speech being protected, and force the plaintiff to come forward with admissible evidence showing it could plausibly succeed on its claims. Moreover, an anti-SLAPP motion halts discovery absent a special order of the court.
StemExpress had demanded early expedited discovery into the case; that request was thwarted by CMP’s anti-SLAPP motion. So they appealed to the court under part of the anti-SLAPP statute for special discovery — an exception to the general rule that discovery is stayed when the motion is filed. They wanted, for instance, to gather evidence that would help them transform their brief temporary restraining order into a longer-lived preliminary injunction, which requires more proof.
The L.A. County Superior Court’s decision does not bode well for their project. In what appears to be a tentative ruling, the court refuses their special discovery request, saying they have not shown adequate cause. More specifically, the court suggests there’s no need for discovery in support of a preliminary injunction the court is not inclined to award:
Plaintiff does not persuade the Court that the discovery it seeks is necessary to obtain the preliminary injunction. That is because it appears unlikely that the Court is going to grant the preliminary injunction. The injunction Plaintiff seeks would prevent Defendants from disseminating the videotapes. First, this proposed injunction would constitute a prior restraint on the Defendants’ rights under the First Amendment and the parallel protections under the California Constitution. US Const. Amend. I; Cal. Const. Art. 1, § 2. Therefore, it is unlikely that the preliminary injunction will ultimately be granted.
Yes, it appears that the court has been awakened to the prior restraint implications of prohibiting distribution of a video.
So StemExpress is not out of the woods yet — not by a long shot. Nor will they get an opportunity to see what exactly CMP has on them until everyone else gets a look at it, too, if this order holds up and the TRO is quashed. But if they are willing to cut ties with the single largest source of fetal tissue in the country by far, they must think this last video and the videos to come will be bad indeed — like, Category 5 bad.