A Harris County, TX grand jury investigating allegations that a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston illegally sold the tissue of aborted fetuses has cleared the organization of wrongdoing and instead indicted two anti-abortion activists behind the undercover videos that sparked the probe.
Secret videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were both indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden received an additional misdemeanor indictment under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the surprising indictments Monday after a two-month investigation.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said 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.”
The probe began after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group run by Daleiden, released footage of the Houston clinic as part of a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for scientific research. That prompted allegations that the organization was profiting off of tissue — an allegation that was never proven — and sparked calls for an investigation from Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and others.
The Center for Medical Progress did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
Abbott’s office noted in a statement that Paxton and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission still are investigating the videos.
“Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation,” Abbott said. “The State of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue.”
Paxton’s office declined comment, as did the health commission.
A spokeswoman for the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood said the news made the organization feel “vindicated.”
“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 the spokeswoman, Rochelle Tafolla. “We’re glad that these extremists have been indicted for breaking the law.”
The national organization of Planned Parenthood had said in a letter to Congress that Daleiden was involved in secretly recording staff and patients at least 65 times over the last eight years.
The organization alleged that Daleiden and others used aliases, obtained fake government I.D.s, and formed a fake tissue procurement company in an effort to gain access to private areas and record private conversations to be deceptively edited to create a false impression.
The second indictment for Daleiden suggests that the grand jury found that he went too far in trying to get Planned Parenthood to admit to selling tissue. The crime, a class A misdemeanor is committed if a person intentionally offers to buy or offers to sell a human organ, including fetal tissue. If convicted, the maximum punishment is a year in jail.