The Planned Parenthood investigators indicted by a Houston grand jury on Monday were not breaking the law as they are undercover journalists, maintains the lawyer for the lead investigator, David Daleiden.
Daleiden’s use of a false identification, linked to his undercover report on Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, is “standard undercover technique” and is allowed under Texas law, Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society told CNA.
Daleiden, the project lead for the “citizen journalist” team Center for Medical Progress, and his fellow worker Sandra Merritt, were indicted Jan. 25 by a grand jury for “tampering with a government record.” Additionally, Daleiden was indicted for the purchase or sale of human organs, a misdemeanor charge.
Last summer, the Center for Medical Progress had released a series of videos of secretly-taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials as part of its investigative report “Human Capital.” The report focused on Planned Parenthood’s role in its clinics offering fetal tissue of aborted babies to harvesters for compensation.
Planned Parenthood, Daleiden charged, was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue of aborted babies.
Federal law generally prohibits the sale of human organs but does allow for the transfer of fetal tissue for medical research with compensation, provided the compensation is not “valuable consideration” but is “reasonable,” to cover expenses such as operating and shipping costs.
Following the release of the videos, Planned Parenthood has been investigated on the state and federal level, but so far there have been no official conclusions of wrongdoing.
To investigate Planned Parenthood, members of the Center for Medical Progress set up a false company Biomax and posed as company representatives seeking to partner with Planned Parenthood clinics to harvest fetal tissue. They discussed various amounts of compensation for the tissue.
Daleiden and Merritt secretly taped their conversation with the research director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Melissa Farrell, while posing as tissue harvesters. They would have had to use identification to gain access to the clinic, and allegedly used California drivers licenses with their false names.
Texas law prohibits the use of a governmental record “with knowledge of its falsity” or any “false alteration” of a governmental record. It clarifies that it is a misdemeanor “unless the actor's intent is to defraud or harm another, in which event the offense is a state jail felony” and “a felony of the second degree.”
Thus, by charging them with a second-degree felony, the Houston grand jury determined that Daleiden and Merritt operated with the intent “to defraud or harm” Planned Parenthood.
However, this tampering statute was intended for serious crimes like identity theft, Breen maintained. It is not intended to prohibit the use of false identification for undercover journalism — which is what the two investigators were doing.
An attorney for Planned Parenthood in Houston, Josh Schaffer, told the Washington Post that the Center for Medical Progress “edited the tapes to be taken out of context,” although the organization posted a full video of the report over five hours long.
What is clear, Breen maintained, is that Daleiden and his fellow investigators “have rock-solid evidence” that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is changing its abortion procedures to better obtain fetal tissue, and is altering its accounting practices.
The allegations relate to what Farrell at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast told Daleiden and Merritt about the cost of obtaining and dissecting fetal tissue for harvesters. Farrell floated the possibility of altering the abortion procedure to increase the possibility of extracting “intact” fetal tissue.
“If we alter our process, and we are able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, we can make it part of the budget that any dissections are this, and splitting the specimens into different shipments is this. It’s all just a matter of line items,” she said.
Daleiden was also indicted for the purchase or sale of human organs. A person violates Texas law when “he or she knowingly or intentionally offers to buy, offers to sell, acquires, receives, sells, or otherwise transfers any human organ for valuable consideration.”
Schaffer, Planned Parenthood’s attorney, also told the Washington Post that Daleiden made an offer via e-mail to purchase fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood for $1,600.
However, Daleiden clearly did not have the intent to purchase fetal tissue because he did not have the resources to “buy, store, or process baby body parts,” Breen said.
In contrast, Planned Parenthood clearly had the money and the means to violate that statute, he told CNA, and had built relationships “to sell baby body parts for profit.”