Grand jury turns tables on Planned Parenthood accusers

David Daleiden, director of the Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt, one of Mr. Daleiden’s employees face a felony charge of tampering with a government record – a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle/AP/File
This photo shows a Planned Parenthood in Houston. A grand jury investigating undercover footage of Planned Parenthood found no wrongdoing Monday, by the abortion provider, and instead indicted anti-abortion activists involved in making the videos that targeted the handling of fetal tissue in clinics and provoked outrage among Republican leaders nationwide.

A Houston grand jury investigating accusations of criminal misconduct against Planned Parenthood has found no wrongdoing on the organization’s part, and instead indicted the two employees from the Center for Medical Progress.

David Daleiden, director of the Center for Medical Progress, faces a felony charge of tampering with a government record – a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. He also faces a misdemeanor count related to soliciting the purchase of human organs.

Sandra Merritt, one of Mr. Daleiden’s employees, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.

Last July, the Center for Medical Progress released its first of a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s senior director of medical services, Deborah Nucatola, as she ate lunch with people presenting as executives from an Irvine human biologics company, seeking sources of fetal tissue for medical research. The Texas video submitted to the Houston grand jury was the fifth released by the Center for Medical Progress.

The videos suggested that Planned Parenthood employees were selling fetal tissue harvested from during abortions for medical research. Planned Parenthood said that it never sought a profit from the transfer of fetal tissue to research facilities and only recouped expenses for storage and delivery as allowed by federal law. The videos sparked outrage among anti-abortion activists and prompted roughly a dozen state launch investigations into the company and a congressional hearing. To date, the company has not been found to have violated any laws relating to fetal tissue.

In announcing the indictment, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson did not provide details regarding the records that were allegedly tampered with, but earlier this month, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against the anti-abortion group, in California, alleging the group committed conspiracy, fraud and broke other federal laws in obtaining the video records. It’s unclear whether the indictment would be made public.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Ms. Anderson said in a statement. “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.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that the inspector general of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas attorney general’s office would continue to investigate Planned Parenthood’s actions.

“Nothing about today’s announcement in Harris County impacts the state’s ongoing investigation,” Gov. Abbott 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 Washington Post reported.

Planned Parenthood released a statement calling the ruling a victory, and said that 11 state investigations have cleared the group of claims that it profited from fetal tissue donation:

"This is absolutely great news because it is a demonstration of what Planned Parenthood has said from the very beginning: We follow every law and regulation and these anti-abortion activists broke multiple laws to try and spread lies," said spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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