Monday, January 25, 2016
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Houston grand jury investigating undercover footage of Planned Parenthood found no wrongdoing Monday by the abortion provider and instead indicted anti-abortion activists involved in making the videos that provoked outrage among Republican leaders nationwide.
David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs. Another activist, Sandra Merritt, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record. It's the first time anyone in the group has been charged criminally since the videos started surfacing last year.
In a statement announcing the indictment, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson didn't provide details on the charges, including what record or records were allegedly tampered with and why Daleiden faces a charge related to buying human organs. Anderson's office said it could not provide details until the documents charging Daleiden and Merritt were formally made public, which was expected later Monday.
"We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast," Anderson's statement said. "As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us."
The anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress has released several covertly shot videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the handling of fetal tissue from abortions. The center claims that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue; Planned Parenthood officials have denied any wrongdoing and have said the videos were misleadingly edited.
A phone message left seeking comment from the center about Monday's indictment wasn't immediately returned.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has called footage from the Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston "repulsive and unconscionable." It showed people pretending to be from a company that procures fetal tissue for research touring the facility. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also opened his own investigation into the videos.
Abbott said the indictments will not impact the state's investigation, adding that Texas will "continue to protect life."
Planned Parenthood officials swiftly hailed the indictment as just.
"This is absolutely great news because it is a demonstration of what Planned Parenthood has said from the very beginning: We follow every law and regulation and these anti-abortion activists broke multiple laws to try and spread lies," said spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.
The videos provoked an outcry from the anti-abortion movement, and prompted numerous investigations of Planned Parenthood by Republican-led committees in Congress and by GOP-led state governments. Thus far, none of the investigations has turned up wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Republicans in Congress last summer unsuccessfully called for cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood says it abides by a law that allows providers to be reimbursed for the costs of processing tissue donated by women who have had abortions.
The Texas video was the fifth released by the group. Before its release, Melaney Linton, president of the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic, told state lawmakers last summer that it was likely to feature actors — pretending to be from a company called BioMax — asking leading questions about how to select potential donors for a supposed study of sickle cell anemia. Linton said the footage could feature several interactions initiated by BioMax about how and whether a doctor could adjust an abortion if the patient has offered to donate tissue for medical research. She also said Planned Parenthood believed the video would be manipulated.
Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood sued the center in a California federal court, alleging extensive criminal misconduct. The lawsuit says the center's videos were the result of numerous illegalities, including making recordings without consent, registering false identities with state agencies and violating non-disclosure agreements.
After the lawsuit was filed, Daleiden told The Associated Press that he looked forward to confronting Planned Parenthood in court.