Monday a Houston grand jury convened to investigate whether a local Planned Parenthood clinic had sold the organs of aborted fetuses. The bi-partisan grand jury not only cleared the clinic and but they went on to indicte the undercover videographers behind the allegations, surprising the officials who called for the probe and delighting supporters of the women’s health organization.
The Harris County (Houston) grand jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, both of California, on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. It also charged Daleiden, the leader of the videographers, with the same misdemeanor he had alleged – the purchase or sale of human organs, presumably because he had offered to buy in an attempt to provoke Planned Parenthood employees into saying they would sell.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the indictments in a statement, noting the probe had lasted more than two months. The statement came in the form of an email from Anderson’s office in Houston.
As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” said Anderson, a Republican. “All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”
An arrest warrant was issued late Monday; documents detailing the charges were expected to be available Tuesday.
The videographers, who had posed as employees of a company that buys tissue and filmed interactions with Planned Parenthood executives, issued a statement saying they had not committed any crimes.
Planned Parenthood has denied any such admissions or wrongdoing, calling the videos heavily edited and saying it has never profited from selling fetal tissue, only received reimbursements for the costs of preserving the tissue for research, which is legal. The group sued Daleiden last month.
Anderson’s statement said the grand jury “cleared (Planned Parenthood) of breaking the law.”
The Center for Medical Progress of Planned Parenthood clinics around the country are under fire ultra conservatives who continue to use these highly edited and misleading videos against the women’s health organization. Meanwhile. in Congress they continue to push forward to defund the organization.
In Texas, lawmakers are studying new laws on fetal tissue donation, and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said it will drop Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program.
The Harris County investigation was one of several that began in the state after the center released footage of a Houston clinic executive casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue, which Republican state officials said was proof the organization was making a profit.
Planned Parenthood officials declared victory, however, saying they felt vindicated after being cleared by the lengthy non-partisan investigation.
“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,” said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which runs the Houston clinic as well as facilities in Louisiana.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast previously has acknowledged donating fetal tissue in 2010, but has said it did not make any profit then and has not even donated since.
Across the country, two Planned Parenthood branches currently participate in tissue donation programs, according to the organization.
The National Abortion Federation was more direct in its celebration of the indictments.
“As we’ve known all along, David Daleiden is the one who broke the law, not abortion providers,” said Vicki Saporta, the abortion-rights group’s president and CEO.
He spent years working on the effort on fetal tissue, which is not studied often today, but in the past has helped lead to several medical breakthroughs, including an early polio vaccine.
Planned Parenthood has said he secretly recorded staff and patients at least 65 times over the last eight years. The organization also has alleged that Daleiden used aliases, obtained fake government identifications and formed a fake tissue procurement company to gain access to private areas and record private conversations to be deceptively edited.