A Houston grand jury turned the tables on two anti-abortion activists Monday after choosing not to indict Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast for allegations of unlawful misconduct. The grand jury did, however, indict both David Daleiden, 27, and Sandra Merritt, 62, for tampering with governmental record, a second-degree felony.
While the Houston grand jury’s decision is a major win for Planned Parenthood, has the damage to its reputation already been done?
Planned Parenthood is undergoing political backlash on a national level as conservative lawmakers try to defund the public-health nonprofit.
Last July, Daleiden and Merritt, of the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), posted undercover videos and accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue. The videos were heavily edited, according to an analysis by Media Matters for America, but they still prompted Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to call for the Harris County District Attorney to investigate the clinics. The Houston Chronicle reported that Patrick also ordered a separate probe by a state Senate committee.
In response, Planned Parenthood went on the offensive earlier this month and filed a lawsuit against CMP. In the suit, the organization alleged that CMP operated a "complex criminal enterprise" over the course of a few years, involving "fake companies, fake identifications, and large-scale illegal taping." The effort, the lawsuit said, was an attempt to "demonize" Planned Parenthood "with the ultimate goal of interfering with women's access to legal abortion."
Planned Parenthood seeks restitution "for all monies expended" by CMP's "unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices."
CMP responded to the Jan. 14 lawsuit, calling it a "frivolous ... last-ditch move of desperation" in retaliation against its "First Amendment investigative journalism."
Following a more than two-month investigation, the grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of breaking the law, according to the Houston Chronicle. Arrest warrants for Daleiden and Merritt were issued Monday; they both face 20 years in prison if convicted.
After the grand jury reached its decision, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson released a statement.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Anderson, who was appointed by former Texas governor Rick Perry in 2013. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us.”
Anderson added that she respects the grand jury’s decision on “this difficult case.”
Planned Parenthood didn’t mince words on its Facebook page on Monday:
These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda. As the dust settles and the truth comes out, it’s become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we’re glad they’re being held accountable.
In the years since former Texas senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster against House Bill 2, the state has taken exhaustive measures to restrict women’s access to reproductive health facilities. The CMP videos served as fuel for fire against Planned Parenthood.
In October, Texas legislators cut Medicaid funding for the organization and other abortion providers in the state, according to the Austin Chronicle.
“The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed in Texas and the barbaric practice must be brought to an end,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in an Oct. 19, 2015, press release. “As such, ending the Medicaid participation of Planned Parenthood affiliates in the State of Texas is another step in providing greater access to safe healthcare for women while protecting our most vulnerable—the unborn.”
Representatives for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast said this announcement was shameful.
“Tens of thousands of women are already going without care after years of policies aimed at blocking access to care at Planned Parenthood,” PPGC spokesperson Rochelle Tafolla told the Texas Tribune. “Now Texas politicians are using a thoroughly discredited, bogus attack against Planned Parenthood as a shameful excuse to attack Texas women’s health yet again.”
According to Houston Public Media, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast alone served more than 7,000 woman using Medicaid in 2014.
Representatives from the Harris County DA and Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast did not immediately respond to NTRSCTN's requests for comment.