A grand jury convened to investigate whether a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic had sold the organs of aborted fetuses on Monday cleared the clinic and instead indicted 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 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.
THE BACKGROUND: Undercover Planned Parenthood video targets Houston clinic
“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.
“The Center for Medical Progress uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and follows all applicable laws,” the statement said, adding, “Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see.”
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.”
Still, the dozen videos released by the Center for Medical Progress of Planned Parenthood clinics around the country already have had a huge impact, including an effort in Congress 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.
More probes pursued
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.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea party firebrand from Houston, was the first to call for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to investigate. He also directed a state Senate committee to conduct its own probe.
On Monday, Patrick issued a statement saying the Senate probe would continue because “the horrific nature of these videos demand scrutiny and investigation.”
Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who also ordered their own investigations, released statements saying they would continue.
“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.
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…