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Anti-Abortion Activists Indicted On Felony Charges In Planned Parenthood Case


Now to the surprise twist in the Planned Parenthood story. Last year, an antiabortion group released secretly recorded videos that they said showed Planned Parenthood employees trying to sell fetal tissue. The videos launched a series of congressional and state investigations of Planned Parenthood, including in Texas. Well, now a grand jury in Houston looking into the case has indicted two antiabortion activists who helped make the videos. They face felony charges for using fake driver's licenses. One is also charged with a misdemeanor. Here to help us sort through all this is NPR's Jennifer Ludden. And Jennifer, who's charged and with what?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Robert, David Daleiden is the name most familiar to some people now. He's the head of the Center for Medical Progress, which is a company he basically set up to put out these undercover videos. Also, a colleague of his who helped him, Sandra Merritt - both are charged with felonies for making and using fake California drivers licenses. They apparently used them to gain access to a Planned Parenthood meeting in Texas. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge of illegally trying to buy fetal tissue, which his lawyers call very ironic since he was trying to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue.

SIEGEL: What else did the lawyers say about these charges?

LUDDEN: Well, they say, you know, how can you accuse Daleiden of this without accusing Planned Parenthood of trying to sell the tissue he was trying to buy? Planned Parenthood says, you know, Daleiden, in this fake identity, was offering them $1,600 per specimen, which is just outrageously high, so high that they never responded to him. Daleiden's lawyer also says that the felony charge is inappropriate here, that the law bans the use of fake IDs if you're going to defraud the government - you know, try to get Social Security benefits or something. But he says in this case, Daleiden was simply doing what investigative journalists do, so he will talk about his First Amendment rights.

SIEGEL: What happens next in this case?

LUDDEN: Well, Daleiden's attorney says that, you know, arrangements are being made for him and Merritt to turn themselves in. They're in California, so they would go to Houston. Now, his attorney says he hopes that at that point, this whole case would be dismissed.

SIEGEL: What about all those other instigations launched after the release of those videos? Where do they stand now?

LUDDEN: Most of the state investigations were brought by Republican governors. Eleven states so far have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. Now, I should note that in a lot of those states, they were - said they were investigating, you know, the donation of fetal tissue in states where Planned Parenthood says it didn't even do that. Now, in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott says he will continue the investigation despite the grand jury's indictment. Texas will continue looking into any possible wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

In Congress, we've also had a number of committees who opened investigations. There were a lot of high-profile hearings last year. Lawmakers vowed to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. That did not happen. But there's a select committee created to investigate the use of fetal tissue and how it's provided to researchers. That is still organizing - no meetings yet. But today, its chairwoman, Representative Marsha Blackburn, says she is committed as ever to that mission.

SIEGEL: In addition to what the grand jury in Houston did, there's also a lawsuit that David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress face.

LUDDEN: Right. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood's affiliate in California brought a civil suit accusing Daleiden and some others of conspiracy and fraud. And again, this goes back to their use of a fake identity to gain access to private meetings. They say that, you know, he lied his way into medical conferences, secretly recorded people without their consent and violated confidentiality contracts that he and others signed. And that suit basically seeks damages - monetary damages for that.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Jennifer, thanks.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.