In 2015, a number of videos about Planned Parenthood went viral, prompting investigations into the organization’s practices and procedures, as well as promises from politicians to shut down or defund the organization. Earlier this week, indictments were handed down in Texas — but not for Planned Parenthood. Instead, formal charges were pressed against Sandra Susan Merritt, David Daleiden, and the Center for Medical Progress, the group and individuals who presented the videos to the world.
The New York Times reported in September that six states, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, South Dakota, and Massachusetts, had all completed investigations into Planned Parenthood and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The videos appear to show staff at the organization laughing and discussing the sale of fetal issue and organs. It should be understood that the donation of such tissue, for research and medical use, is not outlawed federally, although some states do not allow it. Further, the laws relating to donation do allow for a fee, not for the tissue itself, but in order to recoup expenses related to storage and transport.
Although the videos purport to show officials at Planned Parenthood discussing a profit for fetal tissue, investigations did not find support for this. Instead, the Washington Post explains, investigators found evidence that those behind the video had broken several laws in the process of their “sting” operation.
These include forging federal documents (Daleiden and Merritt, as fake agents in the sting operation, used falsified California drivers’ licenses to back up their identities), and attempting to buy human tissue (illegal even if you’re only pretending in order to catch someone selling it).
The videos have been described as falsified and spliced in multiple places in order to distort the message of the conversations therein.
However, the lack of findings against Planned Parenthood and the indictments of Merrit and the Center for Medical Progress aren’t slowing the conservative charge against the organization.
One entity stepping into the fray is the law firm behind Kim Davis’ defense and publicity, the Liberty Counsel. The Liberty Counsel announced on Tuesday that its attorneys would be defending Merrit, with attorney Mat Staver declaring the indictment “outrageous” and maintaining that Planned Parenthood should be facing charges instead.
The Liberty Counsel, registered as a nonprofit, has promised to defend Sandra Merritt free of charge and has even started what they term the Stand Against Planned Parenthood Defense Fund to cover costs associated with the legal defense.
Meanwhile, Daleiden claims that the charges are simply a matter of silencing investigative journalism.
Thank you everyone for all the support! Something smells rotten in TX: it's @PPGulfCoast trying to jail investigative journalism.
— David Daleiden (@daviddaleiden) January 27, 2016
Writing for the Center for Medical Progress, the group behind the Planned Parenthood videos, Daleiden issued a statement on the indictment, suggesting that he could not be guilty of buying (or the attempt thereof) human tissue unless Planned Parenthood was also guilty of selling the same.
“…note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well.”
Texas state law disagrees with this point — emphasis added in quoted material below.
“A person commits an offense if he or she knowingly or intentionally offers to buy, offers to sell, acquires, receives, sells, or otherwise transfers any human organ for valuable consideration.”
Under this law, it’s enough that Daleiden contacted Planned Parenthood offering to buy tissue. Planned Parenthood did not have to be willing to sell it to him in order for the law to be violated.
Conservative politicians are also taking advantage of the opportunity to double down on declarations against Planned Parenthood.
Mike Huckabee, who has already announced that he wants to be the president who ends abortion entirely, rather than just withdrawing Federal funding from Planned Parenthood as other candidates have promised, released this image this week.
Ben Carson also renewed his promises to fight the organization, declaring an intention to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
I will be a champion of the unborn and will fight to defund rogue groups like Planned Parenthood. Join the fight: https://t.co/KKUDfyWyoc
— Dr. Ben Carson (@RealBenCarson) January 26, 2016
Although Planned Parenthood has been cleared of any wrongdoing in several states and the creators of the sting videos have been charged with crimes in the act of creating the videos, it’s clear that opponents of the organization aren’t ready to back down.
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]