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Health & Science

Anti-Abortion Activists Indicted After Infiltrating Houston Planned Parenthood

Two anti-abortion activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, face felony charges of tampering with government documents in the indictments handed down Tuesday.


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The activists with the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, 27, and Sandra Merritt, 62, are accused of using fake names on fake driver's licenses to get inside the Planned Parenthood in Houston on April 9, 2015. They are both charged with tampering with government documents, a felony.

Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge related to the purchase of human organs.

These individuals broke laws as part of their fraudulent campaign," said Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston. "As the dust is settling on this, we are glad that they will be held accountable for their illegal activity."

Planned Parenthood officials have always maintained that the videos were manipulated to falsely suggest the organization was making a profit when donating fetal tissue to biomedical researchers.

Linton says the group has now been vindicated.

"The announcement affirmed what we have stated from the beginning of this elaborate smear campaign. We did not engage in any wrongdoing. We did not break any laws," she said.

Daleiden's attorney has said the anti-abortion activists will turn themselves in to the Harris County Jail and will plead not guilty.

Daleiden and Merritt could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, according to attorney Josh Schaffer, who represents Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

"They will (be) processed, booked in, mug shots taken, fingerprints taken, and have the opportunity to post bond and be released," Schaffer said. "They will have to deal with the felony charges."

The grand jury also indicted Daleiden on a misdemeanor charge related to organ purchasing. Schaffer said the activist emailed Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in June, offering to pay $1,600 for each fetal specimen.

"Planned Parenthood did not respond to that offer," Schaffer said.

"But it does not matter under Texas law, because the crime was committed when he made the offer," he added. "There did not need to be an agreement, there did not need to be an actual transaction of fetal tissue, there did not need to be payment. The crime occurred when the offer was made."

Some legal experts said it's unusual for a grand jury to start off focusing on one target, and then end up indicting a different criminal target.

"During the course of the grand jury's investigation, I think they were troubled by the quality of the tapes, that they had been altered, and the accusers then became the accused," said Philip Hilder, a Houston defense attorney who used to work as a prosecutor.

Grand jury proceedings are secret so the public may never learn the actual reasoning behind the decisions.

But Hilder said grand jurors in Texas can now exercise more independence. That's because Texas lawmakers passed a law in 2015 eliminating a controversial method for selecting grand jurors, one known as "pick a pal." Grand jurors are now selected randomly in Texas.

"You're going to see greater independence of grand juries going forward, because you're not getting individuals that are hand-picked and selected by the presiding judge, you're getting a true cross-section of the community," Hilder said.

Daleiden did not return a call for comment. But on his group's website he wrote that he had used investigative journalistic techniques, and mentioned the First Amendment rights of freedom of press and freedom of speech.

That probably won't work as a legal defense, said David Anderson, a law professor at the University of Texas who specializes in media law. Anderson says reporters, whether professional or amateur, simply can't break laws, no matter how important the scoop.

"What the First Amendment protects is the right to publish the information once you get it. It doesn't protect the right to gather the information," he explained.

Other legal experts say Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast could still be indicted by a different grand jury, although it's unlikely.

The organization also remains under investigation by Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.


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