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Do Planned Parenthood 'sting' videos depict a sex-trafficking crime?

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli blasted Planned Parenthood after 'sting' videos showed employees appearing to aid a man posing as a sex trafficker. But prosecution would be hard.

By Staff writer / February 7, 2011

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speaks about his challenge against President Obama's health-care law Dec. 13 in Richmond, Va. Cuccinelli criticized Planned Parenthood on Fox News Sunday.

Alexa Welch Edlund/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP/File

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Atlanta

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Sunday that a video "sting" by an antiabortion group shows Planned Parenthood shows an "open willingness to participate" in the sex trafficking of minors.

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The comments on Fox News Sunday came as state investigators in Virginia and New Jersey investigate the taxpayer-funded women's-health organization. The videos, released by Live Action, showed staffers in Planned Parenthood clinics in the two states apparently helping purported pimps find ways to help underage sex workers get abortions.

Live Action's goal in releasing the videos is to support efforts in Congress and in statehouses to defund Planned Parenthood, which is the largest women's health-services provider in the country, as well as the largest abortion provider. Mr. Cuccinelli's criticism suggests that, at least in his case, that message has hit home.

Cuccinelli, a Republican, said the edited footage shows that Planned Parenthood has "an open willingness to participate in this ... and when you see something like this, you can see how [sex trafficking] can flourish."

While Cuccinelli, as attorney general, does not have the power to defund Planned Parenthood in Virginia, he does have the power to bring legal action. He was, for instance, one of the state attorneys general that challenged President Obama's health-care reforms in court.

Challenges of prosecution

But patient confidentiality concerns might make it hard for prosecutors to build a case against Planned Parenthood on the evidence of the Live Action videos, says Jeffrey Grell, an attorney and racketeering law expert in Minneapolis.

"If people at Planned Parenthood are saying, 'I'll help a child get an abortion and not report you to the police,' that may be more a patient-confidentiality issue than a criminal issue – although you would hope that the focus would be on the child ... and improving the condition of women's lives instead of just giving them an abortion so they can go back out onto the street," he says.

But if patient confidentiality is waived or deemed inadmissible, federal and state criminal conspiracy laws could come into play for an ambitious prosecutor, he adds.

Under federal conspiracy laws, for example, "the only thing the prosecution needs to prove is that a conspirator agreed to the overall criminal objective and somehow furthered that objective," he says.

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