When a hidden-camera video was released last summer purporting to show that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling tissues from aborted fetuses, many conservative politicians saw the opportunity to expose the longtime family planning organization, which also performs abortions. Among them was Texas State Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who asked the Harris County prosecutor to open the criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood.
The move has backfired, as the grand jury that was investigating accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two of the abortion opponents who made undercover videos of the organization.
According to news releases, one of the leaders of the Center for Medical Progress — an anti-abortion group that made secretly recorded videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue — had been indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, a felony, and on a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs.
That would be 27-year-old David Daleiden, a 2007 Davis High School Graduate from a prominent local family. Mr. Daleiden, we learned last summer, had posed as a biotechnology representative to infiltrate Planned Parenthood affiliates and had recorded his efforts to acquire the fetal tissue for research.
Another Center for Medical Progress employee, Sandra Merritt, 62, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record.
Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merrit are accused of making and presenting fake California driver’s licenses, with the intent to defraud, for their April meeting at Planned Parenthood in Houston.
Republican lawmakers attempted to seize on this controversy last summer to strip Planned Parenthood of public funding, accusing the organization of engaging in illegal sale of body parts – a charge that the organization has denied. On Monday, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said in a statement that grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.
“As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” Ms. Anderson said. “All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”
She declined further details of the evidence against Mr. Daleiden, citing confidentiality laws of grand jury proceedings.
Mr. Daleiden issued a statement on Monday evening, saying, “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. 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.”
This issue emerged as a bombshell last summer. As the New York Times reports, “The organization was forced to apologize for the casual tone that one of its officials had used to discuss a possible transfer of fetal tissue to what she believed was a legitimate medical company. But Planned Parenthood said the fees being discussed were to cover costs and were legal.”
As the Vanguard reported in July, according to an attorney for Planned Parenthood, “Over the last eight years, Mr. Daleiden has participated in at least 10 separate attacks on Planned Parenthood involving gaining access to our health centers and offices under false pretenses, taping staff (and sometimes patients) without their knowledge on at least 65 occasions (not counting this latest fraud), and misleading the public with heavily edited tapes and flat-out false charges.”
Three years ago, Mr. Daleiden allegedly “created what we now know to be a phony company called Biomax Procurement Services, which held itself out as a legitimate tissue procurement organization. Biomax then embarked on a campaign of corporate espionage with Planned Parenthood and its affiliates as its target.”
The letter continues, “The sham company used the false pretense of seeking tissue for research purposes to gain access to our facilities and staff. These fraudulent efforts appear to have been meticulously planned.” To cite one example, “Biomax set up exhibits at our National Medical Conference and our National Conference over the last couple of years.”
Mr. Daleiden engaged in secretly recording Planned Parenthood staff and patients at least 65 times over the last eight years, potentially yielding thousands of hours of recordings.
Mr. Daleiden talked to the New York Times for an article on Tuesday. He told the Times he had been an anti-abortion activist for more than a decade, forming an anti-abortion group at his school.
He continued his work as a student at Claremont McKenna college, where he got a degree in government.
According to some background information, Mr. Daleiden was temporarily banned from the Pomona College campus after videotaping a presentation by Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles public affairs manager Serena Josel and asking “tough questions.” The tough questions were apparently asking a “Planned Parenthood official there for proof that the group was covering up statutory rape.”
In 2012 while serving as the Research Director for Live Action, David Daleiden participated in a hoax with a “sting” that included establishing a fake medical website, which raised concern from the California Attorney General.
Mr. Daleiden worked for Live Action in college and became director of research in 2008. In his Live Action bio, Mr. Daleiden attributed his anti-abortion militancy to seeing images of aborted fetuses as a teenager. But in the interview, he also said, “I am the child of a crisis pregnancy.”
He told the Times that “his parents, who are now divorced, were juniors in college when his mother became pregnant. He said he had grown up ‘culturally Catholic,’ that is, not particularly religious.”
The Times notes that he now calls Pope Francis “my inspiration,” although Mr. Daleiden’s activism long predates the pope’s ascension, and he points to Francis’ “emphasis on just being active, on going outside of yourself to accomplish things.”
In 2013, Mr. Daleiden formed the non-profit, the Sacramento-based Center for Medical Progress. The Internal Revenue Service granted the Center for Medical Progress tax-exempt status, allowing donors to deduct contributions, as a nonprofit under the agency’s category for “Diseases, Disorders, Medical Disciplines: Biomedicine, Bioengineering.”
Meanwhile, it does not appear the grand jury clearance of Planned Parenthood will stop efforts to investigate their actions.
“Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in a 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.”
The state attorney general, Ken Paxton, said in a statement, “The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry. The state’s investigation of Planned Parenthood is ongoing.”
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick also issued a statement downplaying the significance of the indictment and instead stating that the recent anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision was “a solid reminder of the over 50 million innocent lives that have been lost to abortions.”
He added, “I will never be deterred from standing up to fight to protect the unborn.”
“These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,” Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Monday. “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.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting