Abortion Opponent Indicted Over Planned Parenthood VideosLaurel Brubaker Calkins
Abortion provider is cleared over fetal-tissue sales claims
Anti-abortion video maker is charged with record tampering
The anti-abortion activist behind undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal body parts was indicted by a Texas grand jury in a probe that sprang from Republican outrage over the alleged sales.
David Daleiden, who secretly recorded Planned Parenthood employees while posing as a representative of a company specializing in procuring tissue for stem-cell research, faces charges of tampering with a government record, the Harris County district attorney in Houston said Monday in a statement. A second anti-abortion activist, Sandra Merritt, was also charged in the grand jury indictment, prosecutors said.
District Attorney Devon Anderson said Planned Parenthood was cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the allegations in the widely circulated videos that led to demands by Republican presidential candidates and state officials to cut government funding to the group. From the halls of Congress to the Republican presidential debate stage, the videos galvanized anti-abortion members of the party against the women’s health organization, giving them a potent fundraising tool as well as a plethora of talking points.
Anderson began investigating Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast at the request of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, who said he was alarmed by the potentially illegal activities portrayed in the videos released last year by Daleiden’s anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress.
“As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” Anderson said in her e-mailed statement.
Planned Parenthood sued Daleiden’s group and its founders on Jan. 15 over claims the activists had engaged in a fraud and racketeering conspiracy designed to damage the clinics’ reputation.
Planned Parenthood’s national leadership has repeatedly denounced the videos as deceptively edited and designed to inflame public opinion against the nation’s largest abortion provider. Only a handful of its affiliates participate in the fetal tissue donation program. The organization now refuses reimbursement for the cost of gathering and donating the research specimens, which is allowed under federal law.
“These anti-abortion extremists spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, lying, and breaking the law,” Eric Ferrero, a Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda.”
In addition to the Texas investigation, 11 other states have probed allegations in the undercover videos and cleared the clinics of any wrongdoing, according to Planned Parenthood. Eight other states declined to open probes after being urged to do so by their lawmakers, most of them Republican.
The Houston indictment wasn’t immediately available in court records. Prosecutors didn’t specify in their statement which government records were allegedly tampered with by the defendants.
Daleiden has said in court filings that it was in the public interest to make the videos public to expose what he said were illegal activities by abortion providers.
“The Center for Medical Progress uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and follows all applicable laws,” Daleiden said late Monday in a statement. “We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well. Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see.”
Daleiden is also charged by the state with violating a ban on the sale or purchase of human organs, according to the district attorney’s statement. Specifics of the charge haven’t yet been made public.
Attorneys for Daleiden are negotiating with the Harris County DA’s office to arrange times for him to voluntarily surrender on arrest warrants issued Monday, a standard procedure in Texas. He and Merritt must post a $10,000 bond on the second-degree felony document-tampering charge, which is akin to doctoring a driver’s license, while Daleiden must post an additional $1,000 bond on the misdemeanor state organ-procurement charge, said Murphy Klasing, one of the lawyers. Klasing said he also expects to represent Merritt.
“We have very strong defenses, and neither of these two laws fit what David Daleiden and his undercover team did,” said Peter Breen, a lawyer with the Thomas More Society who also represents Daleiden in civil litigation. “That procurement statute requires intent, and everyone in the country knows David Daleiden had no intention to buy baby body parts, while Planned Parenthood had the repeated intention to sell baby body parts and adjusted their procedures to harvest better body parts.”
Abbott said in a statement that the state’s investigation of Planned Parenthood is continuing.
“The Health and Human Service Commission’s inspector general and the Attorney General’s office have an ongoing investigation into Planned Parenthood’s actions,” Abbott said. “The state of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue.”
Daleiden’s videos have drawn several lawsuits from abortion-rights groups. Planned Parenthood accused Daleiden and his cohorts of breaking federal laws, including invasion of privacy, fraud and illegal recording.
In July, U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco ordered Daleiden’s group not to release more of the videos. More appeared in October, prompting Orrick to order Daleiden to explain.