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Grand Jury Indicts Abortion Foes Behind Undercover Videos

Jacob Villanueva
Texas Tribune

A Harris County grand jury on Monday indicted the videographers behind undercover recordings of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston and cleared the women's health provider of any wrongdoing.

The indictments — part of the county prosecutor's investigation into allegations that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue — include charges against anti-abortion activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for tampering with a governmental record. The grand jury handed down a second charge for Daleiden for “Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs," according to the Harris County District Attorney's office.

The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston of breaking any laws.

State Republican leaders last year pushed for investigations into Planned Parenthood after videos were released depicting Planned Parenthood officials across the nation discussing how their providers obtain fetal tissue for medical research.

Among the undercover videos were recordings of staff at Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, where two abortion foes in April misrepresented themselves as research executives and provided fake California drivers’ licenses. The videographers visited the facility last April “under the guise of discussing tissue research with our clinic research staff,” according to Planned Parenthood.

The two people who visited the Houston facility — including a center where abortions are performed — identified themselves as executives with Biomax Procurement Services, a shell company created by the Daleiden's Center for Medical Progress. The undercover video, released in August, shows the two videographers discussing the administrative costs of harvesting fetal organs at various stages of gestation with Planned Parenthood staff.

A request for comment from the Center for Medical Progress was not immediately returned.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson launched a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood in August at the urging of state leaders, including Republican Lt. Gov.Dan Patrick.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” 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.”

Representatives for both Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Patrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The indictments come amid an investigation into the undercover videos by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.  That investigation was ongoing as of Jan. 14, according to an AG spokeswoman.

State Republican leaders also cited the video in their efforts to boot Planned Parenthood from the state Medicaid program over what they called "acts of misconduct." Planned Parenthood officials in November responded with a federal lawsuit seeking to block Texas' efforts. The organization is still receiving federal and state funds through the program.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.