Judge Dismisses Anti-Abortion Activist’s Organ Trafficking Charge on Technicality
The Harris County DA will not appeal a county judge’s dismissal of an organ trafficking charge against the leader of an anti-abortion group that has targeted a Houston Planned Parenthood affiliate in a series of deceptively edited videos. The group has accused Planned Parenthood of illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.
The videos backfired when David Daleiden, the founder of the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress, was himself indicted by a Houston grand jury in late January. The charges: tampering with government documents, a felony, and a Class A misdemeanor for attempting to purchase fetal organs.
On Monday, Harris County Court-at-Law Judge Diane Bull dismissed the misdemeanor charge on a technicality concerning language left out of the original indictment. In her four-page order, Bull wrote that the indictment does not include both that Daleiden intended to buy, sell or acquire human organs in violation of the law, and that he isn’t subject to a legal exception that allows medical entities to recoup expenses for obtaining or transporting organs.
Republican Harris County DA Devon Anderson said in an e-mailed statement to the Observer that Daleiden’s defense team had never called for dismissal on the grounds identified by Bull. Anderson also said that her office will continue to pursue the felony fraud charge against Daleiden, who is alleged to have falsified a driver’s license in order to access Planned Parenthood offices under false pretenses.
“The basis for the judge’s ruling was not raised by the defense at any time,” Anderson said. “We do not intend to appeal the judge’s decision. Our office remains focused on the felony charge pending in the 338th District Court.”
Daleiden’s indictment came after Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick called on Anderson to investigate the local Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast affiliate. In January, a Houston grand jury cleared the organization of any wrongdoing and instead indicted Daleiden, along with fellow activist Sandra Merritt, who was charged with a felony for tampering with a government document.
CMP cheered the misdemeanor dismissal, issuing a statement calling the dismissal “the latest confirmation” that the indictments against Daleiden were “a politically-motivated sham all along.”
The felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt are still pending.
In a statement emailed to the Observer, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast president Melaney Linton said that regardless of the status of the organ trafficking indictment, Daleiden and CMP have “lied and broke the law” in the name of advancing their “extreme anti-abortion political agenda.”
CMP publicly released the first of its videos in July 2015, prompting a slew of state and federal investigations into the Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation practices. So far, no state investigation has turned up any wrongdoing. Federal law allows patients to donate fetal remains after an abortion; clinics are barred from profiting from the tissue donations but can charge tissue procurement companies for overhead costs.
CMP’s videos also prompted Texas to launch an effort to exclude Planned Parenthood from a joint state-federal Medicaid program. Planned Parenthood has challenged the ouster in federal court, and a hearing in the case has been postponed indefinitely.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and nine other affiliates have also filed a federal lawsuit in California against Daleiden and other CMP activists, alleging that the group committed fraud, trespassed on private property, illegally and secretly recorded footage and invaded the privacy of Planned Parenthood employees. That case is ongoing.