NATION

Texas grand jury indicts antiabortion activists who made undercover videos of Planned Parenthood

A Texas grand jury investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood after the release of covertly-shot videos about the use of fetal tissue from abortions has instead indicted two antiabortion activists who made the videos, authorities said Monday.

David Daleiden, 26, director of the Irvine-based nonprofit Center for Medical Progress, was indicted by the grand jury on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs, Harris County Dist. Atty. Devon Anderson said in a statement.

An employee at the center, Sandra Merritt, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.

The grand jury was investigating recordings made in April at Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, according to the district attorney's statement.

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Daleiden made recordings over a period of three years, using a phony name and hidden cameras to infiltrate members-only conventions of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. He released the first videos in July, arguing that they contained evidence of unlawful trafficking in fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations.

After the recordings were released, more than two dozen states and five congressional committees began investigations. Most of those have been closed without criminal findings, and Republicans in Congress were unsuccessful in their attempt last summer to eliminate funding for the organization.

Federal law allows fetal tissue to be collected and used, but not for profit. Medical ethics prohibit altering the timing, method or procedures used to terminate a pregnancy purely to obtain fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood officials have insisted the videos were manipulated through selective editing.

After meeting for two months, grand jurors cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, the district attorney said in her statement. She did not say what record or records the pair allegedly tampered with.

"We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Anderson said. "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."

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit in San Francisco against Daleiden and other antiabortion activists, alleging they engaged in an illegal conspiracy to block women’s access to abortion.

On Monday, Planned Parenthood officials praised the Texas grand jury’s findings.

"These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme antiabortion political agenda,” said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“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're being held accountable."

Officials at the Center for Medical Progress did not immediately respond to calls and an email seeking comment on the grand jury findings.

But Daleiden’s lawyers have argued that he is protected under the 1st Amendment as a self-described “citizen journalist” who believed he was tracking criminal enterprise.

In a Monday opinion piece in USA Today, Daleiden insisted that the videos “show Planned Parenthood’s senior leadership partaking in a widespread and organized violation of state and federal laws forbidding partial-birth abortions and profiteering from the sale of fetal organs and tissues."

Officials in 11 states have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing after investigating claims that they profited from fetal tissue donation, officials said, including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington.

Officials in eight other states declined to investigate citing a lack of any evidence, including California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia.

But several states are still investigating, including Arizona, Louisiana, Montana and Texas, Planned Parenthood officials said.

“Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement late Monday.

Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton agreed.

“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. “The state’s investigation of Planned Parenthood is ongoing.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

5:19 p.m.: The story was updated with staff reporting.

3:38 p.m.: The story was updated with details of the videos and prosecutors declining to provide information on the indictment.

The article was first posted at 2:22 p.m.

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