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Indictment Sheds Light on Planned Parenthood Sting

As more details come to light about the criminal charges against the videographers that infiltrated a Planned Parenthood facility in Houston, it appears anti-abortion activist David Daleiden was indicted for the very crime he accused Planned Parenthood of committing.

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Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, apparently is charged with the very crime he tried to secretly catch Planned Parenthood committing.

A Harris County grand jury’s Monday indictment of Daleiden, one of the anti-abortion activists behind secretly recorded video of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, includes a misdemeanor charge of “unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly” offering to buy fetal tissue “for valuable consideration,” according to court documents released by Harris County on Tuesday.

Last June 30, after secretly videotaping meetings with Planned Parenthood officials, Daleiden emailed Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s research director and other employees with a proposed agreement to purchase fetal tissue, according to Planned Parenthood attorney Josh Schaffer. That agreement included an offer to pay $750 for each sample of fetal liver tissue and $1,600 for a liver-thymus combination from the same fetus.

A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney declined to comment on Daleiden’s email, but the court document detailing Daleiden’s indictment also cites June 30 as the day he allegedly offered to purchase fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.

Representatives for the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group founded by Daleiden that has released the videos, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a previous statement, the organization noted “that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well” and insisted that Planned Parenthood officials admitted in the videos that they sell fetal organs for profit.

But Schaffer said Planned Parenthood staff did not respond to Daleiden’s email because they realized he was “either trying to sting them or, if it was honest proposal, that he was breaking the law.”

The Texas Penal Code indicates that the mere offer to buy or sell human organs, including fetal tissue, is a violation. 

While the sale of fetal tissue is illegal, abortion clinics may donate fetal tissue with a patient’s consent for use in medical research. Federal law allows clinics to be reimbursed for costs “associated with the transportation, implantation, processing preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue” for research purposes — an amount that typically ranges from $25 to $50.

Offering to pay health providers an amount higher than those administrative costs is also a violation of the law.

The charge against Daleiden is a class A misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail.

The misdemeanor charge is one result of the Harris County District Attorney’s criminal investigation into allegations that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue. That investigation — launched at the urging of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — focused on undercover recordings of staff at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston discussing the administrative costs of harvesting fetal organs at various stages of gestation.

But on Monday the grand jury cleared the women’s health organization of any wrongdoing and instead handed down charges against Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, a fellow anti-abortion activist. Both are accused of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

Daleiden and Merritt, of California, used fake California driver’s licenses “with the intent to defraud and harm another,” according to the indictment documents filed with a Harris County criminal court. Daleiden presented an ID using the name Robert Daoud Sarkis, while Merritt posed as Susan Sarah Tennenbaum, the indictment documents said.

The alleged use of the falsified driver’s licenses was first reported in July when Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast confirmed to The Texas Tribune that two people “fraudulently representing themselves” as research executives toured a Planned Parenthood facility in April “under the guise of discussing tissue research with our clinic research staff.” The two individuals identified themselves as executives with Biomax Procurement Services, a shell company created by the Center for Medical Progress, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said.

In light of those charges, the Center for Medical Progress in its statement said its “citizen journalists” were working under First Amendment protections.

Despite the grand jury's indictments, Texas Republican leaders have reiterated that the state would move forward with its investigations of Planned Parenthood. Inquiries by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are still ongoing, and state officials have not provided a timeline for when they might be completed.

But Planned Parenthood officials say the indictments out of Harris County are a vindication for the organization, which has vehemently denied allegations that it sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas do not currently participate in providing any fetal tissue for research, and the Gulf Coast affiliate has not participated since 2010.

Schaffer said he was informed by one of the prosecutors that the grand jury “never even considered an indictment of Planned Parenthood or its employees.”

“The announcement affirmed what we have stated from the beginning of this elaborate smear campaign spreading lies about Planned Parenthood,” said Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. “We did not engage in any wrongdoing. We did not break any laws.”

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.

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