Texas prosecutors have dropped all charges against two anti-abortion activists who allegedly used fake driver's licenses to gain access to a Houston Planned Parenthood.
In January, a grand jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for tampering with government records – a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Mr. Daleiden was additionally charged with violating Texas's law against the purchase and sale of human organs.
Daleiden, 27, and Merritt, 63, are both members of the Center for Medical Progress, a self-described “group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances.” Last year, the two posed as representatives for a research company seeking to buy fetal tissue.
Their hidden-camera footage, which purportedly shows Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal tissue for profit, triggered a state investigation into the facility. Planned Parenthood denied seeking profit for the tissues, which are used in medical research. The healthcare provider has stated that it only asks companies to cover the cost of storage and transport, which is allowed under federal law.
A Texas grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood after multiple investigations failed to turn up evidence of illegal activity. Instead, the grand jury chose to indict Daleiden and Merritt.
“We certainly began the process as suspects of a crime, and the tables got turned and we ended up victims of a crime,” Josh Schaffer, a Houston lawyer representing the women's healthcare provider, told Reuters.
On Tuesday, the Harris County prosecutor's office asked District Judge Brock Thomas to dismiss the higher charges against Daleiden and Merritt due to the fact that the indictments came during an extension of the grand jury's term. Daleiden's attorneys had argued the grand jury did not have "the authority to indict him during the so-called holdover period, and prosecutors appeared to have agreed," reports The New York Times.
"Texas law limits what can be investigated after a grand jury extension order is issued," said a statement from the office of the district attorney, Devon Anderson.
The court dismissed the misdemeanor charge against Daleiden last month.
“The dismissal of the bogus, politically motivated charges against CMP project lead David Daleiden and investigator Sandra Merritt is a resounding vindication of the First Amendment rights of all citizen journalists, and also a clear warning to any of Planned Parenthood’s political cronies who would attack whistleblowers to protect Planned Parenthood from scrutiny,” Daleiden said in a statement on the Center for Medical Progress' website.