Investigation of Undercover Videos Clears Planned Parenthood and Indicts Anti-Abortion Activists

by | January 26, 2016

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

A grand jury investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood after the release of covertly recorded videos about the use of fetal tissue from abortions has instead indicted two anti-abortion activists who made the videos, authorities said Monday.

David Daleiden, 26, director of the nonprofit Center for Medical Progress, was indicted by the grand jury on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a statement.

An employee at the center, Sandra Merritt, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.

The Texas grand jury was investigating recordings made in April at Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, according to the district attorney's statement.

Daleiden made recordings over three years, using a phony name and hidden cameras to infiltrate members-only conventions of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. He released the first videos in July, arguing that they contained evidence of unlawful trafficking in fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood denied the allegations.

After the recordings were released, more than two dozen states and five congressional committees began investigations; most of those have been closed without criminal findings, and Republicans in Congress were unsuccessful in their attempt last summer to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

Federal law allows fetal tissue to be collected and used, but not for profit. Medical ethics prohibit altering the timing, method or procedures used to terminate a pregnancy purely to obtain fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood officials have said the videos were manipulated through selective editing.

After meeting for two months, grand jurors cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, the district attorney said in her statement. She did not say what record or records Daleiden and Merritt allegedly tampered with.

"We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast," Anderson said. "As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case."

This month, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit in San Francisco against Daleiden and other anti-abortion activists, alleging they engaged in an illegal conspiracy to block women's access to abortion.

Planned Parenthood officials Monday praised the grand jury's findings.

"These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda," said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"As the dust settles and the truth comes out, it's become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we're glad they're being held accountable."

Officials at the Center for Medical Progress did not immediately respond to calls and an email seeking comment on the grand jury findings.

But Daleiden's lawyers have argued that he is protected under the First Amendment as a self-described "citizen journalist" who believed he was tracking a criminal enterprise.

Officials in 11 states have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing after investigating claims that they profited from fetal tissue donation, officials said, including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington.

Officials in eight other states declined to investigate citing a lack of evidence, including California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia.

Several states are still investigating, including Arizona, Louisiana, Montana and Texas, Planned Parenthood officials said.

"Nothing about today's announcement in Harris County impacts the state's ongoing investigation," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement late Monday.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton agreed.

"The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry," Paxton said. "The state's investigation of Planned Parenthood is ongoing."

(c)2016 Los Angeles Times