Allegations of misconduct by Planned Parenthood, one of the more publicized and politicized cases of 2105, took an unexpected turn on Tuesday, when a Houston grand jury indicted two anti-abortion activists who had used undercover films of that organization’s officials discussing procurement of fetal tissue.
David Daleiden, 27, director of the Irvine California based Center for Medical Progress, was charged with a felony charge of “tampering with a governmental record, as was Sandra Merritt, 62, an employee at the center, reported Tribute Newspapers.
Records released later that day stated that “the pair allegedly used fake California driver’s licenses to gain entrance to Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and covertly film on April 9, 2105. If convicted, they face a potential fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison,” said the Tribune.
In addition, Daleiden is also charged with misdemeanor count relative to purchasing human organs, publishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine, based on an email that he sent to Planned Parenthood, offering to pay “up to $1,600 per specimen,” said Josh Schaffer, a Houston-based attorney representing Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.
The case, when the films were released, became a lightning rod for anti-abortion activists and sparked rallies, and protests across the nation, and their efforts reached all the way to Congress, where with Republican support, “they fueled a threat to shut down the government as well as a push in several states to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, noted National Public Radio on their website.
Several states created their own investigations to see if these types of sales were occurring within their own borders, but “despite all the worry, state investigations have yet to find any evidence that Planned Parenthood was selling or profiting off fetal tissue.” While twelve investigations revealed no purported activity of the kind, the videos suggested, two are still ongoing,one in Arizona and the other in Louisiana.
Texas, Governor Greg Abbott, said in his statement, “Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation.”
Meanwhile Daleiden through his pro bono attorney, from the conservative Chicago based Thomas More Society, says the charges are “baseless,” and is asking prosecutors to drop the charges, saying that the tactics were lawful and that “these laws were designed to catch criminal, not undercover journalists,” and also that Planned Parenthood staffers “only opened up to David because he was there undercover.”
The grand jury concluded, after three months, that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which cooperated with the investigation, and gave full “access to staff, facilities, and documents,” said Schaffer.
Carole Brite, President and CEO Planned Parenthood of Illinois, in an emailed statement said: “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 are being held accountable. Planned Parenthood will continue to provide the high quality confidential reproductive health care we are known for and we won’t be stopped, no matter what.”