One Planned Parenthood Investigation Backfired. Here’s Why The Next Won’t.

David Daleiden, who founded a fradulent biomedical company as part of an anti-abortion operation, is facing second-degree felony charges in Houston for tampering with a government record.
David Daleiden, who founded a fradulent biomedical company as part of an anti-abortion operation, is facing second-degree felony charges in Houston for tampering with a government record.

Call it schadenfreude. Call it Daleidenfreude. Call it… well, whatever emotion you think is best conveyed by this gif of an extremely excited corgi.

It is a feeling those of us who believe in abortion rights don’t get to experience very often, but we got our fix Monday afternoon. That’s when news broke that a Houston grand jury charged with investigating Planned Parenthood opted instead to indict the anti-abortion videographers who’ve spent months trying to discredit the organization.

The word “backfired” doesn’t really quite cover the spectacular degree to which this asinine plan failed.

Back in August, fueled by the kind of sanctimonious posturing we’ve come to expect from a lieutenant governor who thinks his own guide to the Bible is second in importance only to the actual Bible, Dan Patrick compelled the Harris County DA to launch a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood. The impetus: a guy named David Daleiden — long a colleague of some of the most extreme anti-abortion activists (in some cases, violently so) in the country — had the bright idea to commit some fraud in hopes of catching abortion providers selling “baby parts.”

Daleiden founded a fake California non-profit and a fake biomedical company, cooked up some fake driver’s licenses, faked his way into medical conferences and Planned Parenthood clinics, and fake-asked doctors and nurses, while filming them without their consent, whether they’d like to sell him some baby parts. Er, fetal tissue.

The answer, without exception, was: no. No, we don’t sell fetal tissue. No, we don’t profit off of fetal tissue. Sir, are you aware it’s illegal to profit off of fetal tissue? No, we don’t want to do business with you.

Nevertheless, Daleiden and his crew hacked up the videos in hopes of creating tangible proof at last that Planned Parenthood is secretly murdering babies in the service of amassing an unimaginable fortune. The federal government was so impressed by this chicanery they dragged Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president, in for a Congressional grilling. States launched investigations. (None of them have yet turned up anything. Many conclusively turned up nothing.)

Not to be outdone, Texas launched three investigations, because everything is bigger here, including our lawmakers’ commitment to embarrassing their own electorate. Harris County’s is the first to return any results, and I have a feeling — based on state officials’ chastened reactions — that getting Daleiden indicted for tampering with a government record and one of his colleagues indicted for trying to buy fetal tissue was not the desired outcome.

But the Houston grand jury called Daleiden’s bluff. And what a glorious call it was! You don’t have to spend much time with the videos to see that the only person in them who’s interested in buying and selling fetal tissue is Daleiden. And he doesn’t do a bad job, really. He makes a pretty convincing money-grubbing creep. A coincidence of talent, I’m sure.

I look forward to Daleiden’s attorneys launching some kind of postmodern defense — that Daleiden was only pretending, that his was a righteous simulation of evil for which he cannot be held responsible.

But while it’s tempting to feel as though the truth has prevailed, that at last common sense and sound judgment have won the day, I’m challenging myself, as much as anyone else, to proceed with caution.

We cannot underestimate the strength of the persecution narrative in the anti-abortion movement, and the degree to which these indictments will be seen not as proof of deception and fraud, but of the secular liberal establishment’s commitment to silencing these downtrodden warriors for life.

Already, I’m seeing this play out in my inbox as statements roll in from anti-abortion groups and anti-abortion lawmakers. Take for example this statement, from the anti-abortion lobby group Texas Right to Life:

In a politically motivated grand jury hearing on Monday, the evidence of illegal practices of dismembering unborn children was ignored, while the investigative journalists who revealed the abortion atrocities were indicted for exercising their First Amendment rights.  People who report crimes should not be indicted due to the political ties of the prosecutors. This botched proceeding represents a grave miscarriage of justice.

Texas Right to Life isn’t wrong about the fact that the grand jury investigation was politically motivated. Undoubtedly so: The call for the investigation came from Dan Patrick, the leader of the Texas tea party and the second-highest ranking man in state government. The investigation was overseen by a Republican district attorney. The point of the investigation was to give conservative lawmakers fuel to further harass and obstruct the work of a health care provider.

The fact that it didn’t work out the way anti-abortion lawmakers planned doesn’t suddenly make this undesirable outcome the magical orchestration of — well, I don’t know who. The secret left-wing cabal that runs Texas? Would that it were so. Everybody involved in dragging Planned Parenthood to court, both literally and in the court of public opinion, has been a Republican. I can guarantee you that if this imagined liberal establishment was capable of saving Planned Parenthood the hassle, they’d have done something long before Monday.

To say that Daleiden was indicted because of the “political ties of the prosecutors” is nothing short of a hilarious fiction. Dan Patrick asked his friend, the Republican DA Devon Anderson, to launch the investigation. So it really says something about the impotence of Daleiden’s gotcha-attempt, and the brazenness of his fraud, that a grand jury opted to pull a complete 180-degree turn on their charge.

And that’s why we have to be tremendously careful. Because while this is a victory for the abortion rights movement, it’s also something of a can’t-lose moment for abortion opponents. It always was, really. The facts were never, and will never be, important for people — many of them very politically powerful — who believe that abortion is murder, that women who get abortions should be incarcerated, and that Planned Parenthood is a criminal operation. It would have been nice for them, certainly, to score an indictment for an abortion provider, but it was never really the point.

The point was the noise. The froth. The media circus. The reporters who jump to be the first to catch images of state agents raiding clinics.

The truth is an afterthought.   

Governor Greg Abbott is itching to further dismantle and defund Planned Parenthood, to the extent that he’s willing to take HIV care out of the hands of sick Houstonians in the service of his crusade. Attorney General Ken Paxton doesn’t even bother to hide his contempt for the organization. Dan Patrick’s barely-choked-out response to the indictment, the result of, ahemm, scrutiny and investigation? “The horrific nature of these videos demand scrutiny and investigation.”

Patrick wants a do-over. There are still two Planned Parenthood investigations ongoing in Texas, one of which is taking place in his own house, as it were — the Texas Senate. We can bet that Patrick expects things to go his way. And why shouldn’t he? The political waters in Texas run as red today as ever; this probably was quite a shock for an anti-abortion movement accustomed to nothing so much as hearing the word “yes.”

We already know that Texas lawmakers have their eyes on passing laws against fetal tissue donation when the Lege convenes in 2017. Hell, Ken Paxton’s already laid out his wish list for new abortion restrictions. Now, more than ever, the anti-abortion movement needs to save face and be seen rallying around their new martyrs, the “investigative journalists” and First Amendment fighters who so royally bungled this entire show.

These guys aren’t used to losing, and not only have they lost, they’ve been embarrassed. Deeply so. They lit up bags of dog shit, rang the doorbell, and found out they’d been pranking on their own porch.

They aren’t going to let it happen again.

Andrea Grimes, a native Texan and avid twitterer, is the digital editor at the Observer.

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Published at 1:56 pm CST
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