David Daleiden's homegrown anti-abortion scandal

How one Davis native reignited the national anti-choice movement

It’s a quiet weekday at Bistro 33 in El Dorado Hills' upscale Town Center shopping district, a seemingly unlikely point of origin for the reignited crusade against reproductive rights. But it was here where a local boy-turned-activist manufactured the controversy that swept up Planned Parenthood and returned the anti-choice movement front and center on the national stage.

One late afternoon in May, David Daleiden, a 2007 Davis High School graduate and son of a former Davis school board member, convinced managers from a Placerville biomedical company to meet with him and another member of his anti-abortion nonprofit, the Center for Medical Progress. Only Daleiden told the StemExpress reps he was Robert Daroud Sarkis, and that he and his associate were from Biomax Procurement Services LLC, a sham company. As its name suggests, Biomax was ostensibly in the procurement business, namely of fetal tissue.

Daleiden had spent months secretly recording conversations at Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation conferences and clinics in other states. In July, the Center for Medical Progress began unleashing this footage, along with claims that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from fetal tissue donations to companies like StemExpress.

Daleiden's own edited footage, however, shows those allegations to be exaggerated at best: He and his hired actors can be heard trying to coax their marks into implicating themselves. But the marks don't bite. Rather, they only discuss abortion procedures in context to patient need and laws, not profits.

The same pretty much happened when Daleiden and a woman posing as a “buyer” met with StemExpress CEO Catherine Dyer and her colleagues on May 22. Then, the conversation mostly revolved around how difficult it is for Dyer's company to secure intact livers for research purposes.

Daleiden's supporters say their allegations hinge more on a StemExpress brochure that promises “a financial benefit” and “fiscal growth” to potential clients.

Those terms are troubling to Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Casey Mattox, whose group is helping Center for Medical Progress defray legal expenses as it fends off multiple legal injunctions. “It's very difficult for me to see how ‘financial benefit' and fiscal rewards were anything other than profit,” he said. “I can't believe [StemExpress] just did that out of nowhere.”

That speculation hasn't been substantiated, but Daleiden nonetheless managed to stir up real peril for his targets. Six states have since tried to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards faced four congressional hearings. There's also been a seemingly related surge in fire bombings and other attacks against Planned Parenthood clinics in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and in other states.

According to a company spokesman, Dyer has experienced multiple death threats, one of which reportedly prompted Placerville authorities to contact the FBI. Placerville Police Department spokeswoman Lt. Kim Nida confirmed the agency was investigating threats to Dyer and her company.

The Center for Medical Progress didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.

For now, Daleiden is letting his work speak for him.