HOUSTON — A grand jury investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood after the release of covertly recorded videos about the use of fetal tissue from abortions has instead indicted two anti-abortion activists who made the videos, authorities said Monday.
David Daleiden, 26, director of the non-profit Center for Medical Progress, was indicted by the grand jury on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a statement.
An center employee, Sandra Merritt, was indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.
The Texas grand jury was investigating recordings made in April at Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, according to the district attorney’s statement.
Daleiden made recordings over three years, using a phony name and hidden cameras to infiltrate members-only conventions of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. He released the first videos in July, arguing that they contained evidence of unlawful trafficking in fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood denied the allegations.
But the videos produced a national fury, prompting politicians and activists in several states including Iowa to find ways of cutting off government money to the health care provider.
Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said this month he would pursue policy language as part of his 2016 legislative agenda requiring that taxpayer funds go only to health providers that do not offer abortion procedures.
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Iowa officials say no state money goes for abortion services, but Planned Parenthood is reimbursed for other services it provides to Medicaid patients. GOP lawmakers have said they want to halt any government money going even indirectly to Planned Parenthood organizations in Iowa.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond Monday evening to a request for comment.
After the videos were releases, more than two dozen states and five congressional committees began investigations; most of those have been closed without criminal findings, and Republicans in Congress were unsuccessful in their attempt last summer to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
Although 41 Iowa Republican lawmakers asked him to, the state’s Democratic attorney general declined to open an investigation.
Federal law allows fetal tissue to be collected and used, but not for profit. Medical ethics prohibit altering the timing, method or procedures used to terminate a pregnancy purely to obtain fetal tissue.
After meeting for two months — reviewing evidence compiled by prosecutors, the Texas Rangers and Houston police — the grand jurors cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, the district attorney said.
She did not say what record or records Daleiden and Merritt allegedly tampered with, although it has been reported the two used fake IDs.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Anderson, who initially was appointed by former Republican Gov. Rick Perry and subsequently elected. “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.”
Planned Parenthood officials Monday praised the grand jury’s findings.
“These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,” said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman.
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Daleiden’s attorneys have argued that he is protected under the First Amendment as a “citizen journalist” who believed he was tracking a criminal enterprise.
“Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see,” Daleiden told POLITICO in an interview late Monday.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who had appeared Sunday at a Right to Life event in Cedar Rapids, issued a statement from Des Moines after the indictments were announced.
“Harvesting human organs is beyond barbaric, it’s unimaginably grotesque and evil. And it’s a sick day in America when our government punishes those who expose evil with a smartphone — while accommodating those who perform it with a scalpel,” he said.
The Los Angeles Times and the Austin American-Statesman contributed to this report.