See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
A grand jury in Houston, Texas, declined to indict Planned Parenthood for alleged criminal conduct related to its fetal tissue donation program. Instead, it indicted two anti-choice activists who covertly recorded videos of the organization and its officials.
David Daleiden, the head of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice front group that published the videos, and Sandra Merritt, another individual involved in the video sting operation, were both indicted Monday on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Daleiden was additionally charged with a misdemeanor count related to the purchase or sale of human organs.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a statement. “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.”
CMP began publishing videos in July of last year that featured actors posing as officers of a fake tissue procurement company Daleiden created called BioMax. In the videos, the actors appear to be haggling with top Planned Parenthood officials regarding the cost of purchasing fetal tissue—or, as CMP put it, “baby parts.”
The videos ignited a firestorm across social media, triggering a string of efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and stoking violence against abortion providers.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the Harris County District Attorney’s office to begin a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast after CMP released its fifth video last August, which featured clinic staff in Houston talking about the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for life-saving scientific research.
Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in a California federal court against Daleiden and CMP. The complaint alleges that Daleiden and others used aliases, obtained fake government IDs, illicitly recorded conversations without consent, and formed a bogus tissue procurement company, in an effort to infiltrate private medical conferences and health-care centers.
The lawsuit calls CMP “a complex criminal enterprise conceived and executed by anti-abortion extremists.”
Daleiden and CMP are facing similar charges from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which filed a lawsuit against the anti-choice activists in July 2015. NAF has, to date, successfully blocked the publication of any additional footage recorded at NAF’s private events.
The indictment of Daleiden and his associate Monday marks the first time anyone involved with the attack videos has been criminally charged.
A warrant has been issued for Daleiden’s arrest.
“It’s great news because it demonstrates what we have said from the very beginning, which is that Planned Parenthood is following every rule and regulation, and that these people came into our buildings under the guise of health when their true intentions were to spread lies,” Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla told the Houston Chronicle.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement, “The grand jury today arrived at a conclusion we’ve understood for months: the heavily edited videos were illegally created by anti-choice extremists to discredit Planned Parenthood and spread wild misconceptions about abortion providers, jeopardizing the health care of millions of low-income Americans.”
“We’re glad the grand jury reached its decision today but it will not [undo] the tremendous damage David Daleiden and his allies have done. It will not bring back the innocent lives lost in Colorado and it will not bring back the millions of dollars in taxpayer money that anti-choice Republicans in Congress have wasted on investigations of Planned Parenthood.”