One Charge Dropped Against Undercover Anti-Abortion Activist Who Infiltrated Planned Parenthood

The case against the anti-abortion activists who face criminal charges after entering a Planned Parenthood using fake IDs in effort to "investigate" the alleged sale of fetal tissue has now become even more ironic than it already was.

Late Monday, County Judge Diane Bull dropped the misdemeanor charges of offering to buy or sell fetal tissue faced by one of the activists, David Daleiden. She cited a technicality—a "defective indictment."

Last year, Daleiden and his partner, Sandra Merritt, had entered the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast location pretending to be representatives from a fake fetal-tissue procurement company in California. They were actually activists from the radical-right group Center for Medical Progress who were secretly video-taping a heavily edited meeting with a Planned Parenthood staffer, apparently discussing the possibility of procuring fetal organs.

After they posted the video and accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the illegal practice of selling fetal organs, Planned Parenthood maintained that it does not profit from the "sale" of fetal tissue—it only has donated it in the past for medical research, and gets reimbursed for shipping expenses. Which is entirely legal. Still, Texas politicians were so incensed that the state launched an intense investigation into the women's healthcare providers.

But Daleiden and Merritt's "sting operation," as they called it, ended up backfiring: In January, a Harris County grand jury indicted them with the felony charge of tampering with a government record and, specifically for Daleiden, offering to buy or sell fetal tissue—ironically, exactly what they had accused Planned Parenthood of doing.

Here's where it gets more ironic: Judge Bull reasoned that the indictment was defective because prosecutors did not list an "exception" to the criminal charge—essentially, prosecutors didn't list a few scenarios in which the defendants' actions would in fact be legal.  One of those exceptions that prosecutors failed to list? It just so happens to be the very defense that Planned Parenthood mounted against the radical right's attacks: "reimbursement of expenses...incurred by the donor of a human organ in connection with the donation of the organ."

Yes, because prosecutors didn't write down that exception in the formal indictment, Judge Bull says the case is void.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office said it does not intend to appeal the judge's decision and will remain focused on the remaining charges against Daleiden and Merritt, tampering with a government record. Planned Parenthood has also sued the activists, alleging they have violated a federal law intended to combat organized crime.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn