In a surprising victory for Planned Parenthood, a Texas grand jury investigating whether it had illegally sold fetal tissue refused to indict the women’s reproductive rights health service—and instead charged two anti-abortion activists with felony charges.
Political witch hunt?
The story began last April, when The Center for Medical Progress, the blasé-sounding name of a far-right anti-choice organization, posted undercover video of Planned Parenthood officials discussing providing fetal tissue for medical research. Republicans in Congress called for an investigation and sought to end Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.
Abortion opponents said the videos showed Planned Parenthood illegally profiting from fetal tissue and changing abortion procedures to obtain better specimens, which the organization denied. (Donating fetal tissue is legal with the woman’s consent.) Planned Parenthood then announced last October that it would no longer seek public reimbursements for the cost of supplying fetal tissue for medical research.
The health group has consistently maintained that it broke no laws, that the videos were out of context and misleading.
Last July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for a probe of Planned Parenthood based on the videos. The following month, the Harris County District attorney’s office began investigating a Texas branch of Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Inc. The district attorney, Houston police and the Texas Rangers all participated in the investigation. A grand jury began hearing evidence in of November.
Innocent as charged
This week its results were announced. Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrongdoing. Instead, anti-choice activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were indicted on a felony charge of tampering with governmental record, which carries a possible maximum 20-year prison sentence. Daleiden was also indicted on a charge of prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs, a misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to one year. According to reports, the charges are based on the pair’s alleged use of fake California driver’s licenses “with the intent to defraud or harm another.”
“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 Planned Parenthood Federation of America spokesman, in a statement. The group recently filed a civil lawsuit against Daleiden and others alleging they had engaged in an illegal conspiracy, alleging that the Center for Medical Progress violated a federal racketeering law by engaging in a pattern of criminal acts, including use of those alleged fake IDs, and also violating signed nondisclosure agreements by making the videos.
And this was in Texas
Harris County is known as a conservative venue. For example, it executes more capitol inmates than any other county—or state other than Texas itself. Texas has passed an onerous series of anti-abortion laws recently, resulting in 93% of state counties having no abortion provider whatsoever. In the tiny number of remaining counties where abortion is available, women and girls are subject to a laundry list of onerous restrictions. Given this climate, the grand jury’s findings are especially encouraging.
“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,” Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a statement.
An indictment is not a conviction, of course, and the defendants are presumed innocent. However, the exoneration of Planned Parenthood should spur apologies from all those who maligned the health organization over the last year since this story broke.