A Harris County, Texas, grand jury has indicted two anti-abortion activists on charges related to controversial undercover videos they recorded at a Planned Parenthood office in Houston.
David Daleiden, the leader of the group behind the videos, Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt were indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, the Houston Chronicle reports. Daleiden was also indicted under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs, the newspaper reports.
The grand jury investigation cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of any wrongdoing.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican. “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.”
Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress recorded several undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees, alleging that the nonprofit organization is selling fetal body parts for profit.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Daleiden & Merritt Posed as Bioscience Researchers to Secretly Record Planned Parenthood Staff
Daleiden and Merritt posed as researchers with a company founded in California by Daleiden, called BioMax Procurement Services. Merritt claimed to be the company’s founder and CEO, while Daleiden said he was a company employee.
They used fake names, Robert Sarkis and Susan Tennenbaum, and fake California driver’s licenses, Planned Parenthood said.
In one of the videos, which you can watch above, Daleiden and Merritt recorded conversations with staff at the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston.
2. Daleiden Has Been an Anti-Abortion Activist for Several Years
Daleiden, 27, founded the Center for Medical Progress in 2013 after working for Live Action, another anti-abortion organization. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College in California.
According to the New York Times, Daleiden said he is a “child of a crisis pregnancy.”
His organization is a nonprofit and he told the Times he has raised $120,000 in three years.
“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,” Daleiden said in a statement. “We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well. Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see.”
3. They Face Up to 20 Years in Prison if Convicted
Daleiden and Merritt each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the charges of tampering with a governmental record, the Harris County district attorney’s office said.
Details of the allegations against the duo, including what governmental record they are accused of tampering with, were not immediately made public.
Daleiden also faces up to a year in prison if convicted of the misdemeanor charge of violating the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast said they feel “vindicated” by the indictment.
“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,” Rochelle Tafolla said in a statement. “We’re glad that these extremists have been indicted for breaking the law.”
4. Planned Parenthood Has Filed a Federal Lawsuit Against Daleiden & Merritt
Daleiden and Merritt are both named in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month by Planned Parenthood.
The lawsuit accuses the Center for Medical Progress of engaging in illegal conduct in violation of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) and engaging in wire fraud, mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing, Planned Parenthood said in a press release.
“The people behind this fraud lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, said in a statement “This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable.”
5. Texas’ Governor Says the Grand Jury Decision Doesn’t Change the State’s Planned Parenthood Probe
Although Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast was cleared by the Harris County grand jury, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the organization is still under state investigation.
“Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation,” Abbott said in statement. “The State of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue.”
Planned Parenthood is being investigated by the state Health and Human Services Commission and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas Tribune reports.