clock menu more-arrow no yes

Criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood sting video activists have been dropped

Win McNamee/Getty Images

In January, a Houston grand jury indicted two anti-abortion activists who were behind this summer's series of undercover anti-Planned Parenthood videos. The activists are David Daleiden, founder of the anti-abortion group that created and publicized the videos, and Sandra Merritt, who appeared with Daleiden in many of the videos.

On Tuesday, the last criminal charge against Daleiden and Merritt was dismissed by Texas District Judge Brock Thomas. It was a felony charge of "tampering with a governmental record," based on allegations that Daleiden and Merritt used falsified driver's licenses in the process of making the videos.

Daleiden also faced a misdemeanor charge of "purchase and sale of human organs," which was also dropped last month. That charge came about because Daleiden reportedly tried, and failed, to get Planned Parenthood employees to sign fake agreements to sell fetal tissue.

Both charges were dropped because the Harris County prosecutor's office determined that the grand jury lacked jurisdiction to bring the charges in the first place. The original indictment came after a two-month grand jury investigation looked into claims by Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue. The grand jury declined to indict Planned Parenthood, and decided to indict the two Center for Medical Progress activists instead.

Daleiden and his collaborators are still facing several civil lawsuits, however, including one from Planned Parenthood. The organization says that the Center for Medical Progress a "criminal enterprise" that, among other things, defrauded the IRS by creating a fake nonprofit and illegally recorded people without their consent.

Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast released a statement arguing that the charges were dropped on a "technicality":

Planned Parenthood provides high-quality, compassionate health care and has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again. Daleidan and other anti-abortion extremists, on the other hand, spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying. When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda. The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud.

In a statement, Daleiden called the now-dismissed charges "bogus" and "politically motivated. He said that the dismissal is "a vindication for the First Amendment rights of all citizen journalists, and also a clear warning to any of Planned Parenthood’s political cronies who would attack whistleblowers to protect Planned Parenthood from scrutiny."

It's been more than a year after Daleiden first released a series of "sting" videos claiming that Planned Parenthood illegally "sells" fetal tissue for "profit." In all of that time, however, numerous federal and state investigations have turned up no evidence backing up Daleiden's claims. And a select House committee continues to investigate the claims, harassing scientists and researchers in the process, despite this lack of evidence.

There's plenty of evidence refuting Daleiden's claims, though — including edited-out portions of Daleiden's own videos.

Moreover, only a limited number of Planned Parenthood's clinics — two out of about 700, to be precise — actually participated in fetal tissue research programs at the time the videos came out. And only one of those clinics was actually reimbursed for their costs, which is totally legal, before Planned Parenthood opted to stop accepting reimbursements altogether.