This story has been corrected since it was originally published.
In the spring of 2015, a controversial video surfaced of a Planned Parenthood executive describing the (very legal) routine processes that the organization goes through to donate fetal tissue and organs.
The video, which was heavily edited in favor of anti-abortion supporters, was released online as “investigative footage” by the Center for Medical Progress, with the title “Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts.” It was then shared widely and rapidly across social media channels, launching the anti-abortion activism career of CMP founder David Daleiden.
This week, that career may have come to a startling halt.
On Tuesday, California prosecutors indicted Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, his co-conspirator, on 15 felony counts of violating the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without their consent.
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
Daleiden and Merritt used manufactured identities and created a fictitious bio research company to meet medical officials and covertly record the private discussions they initiated, Becerra said while announcing the charges.
The infamous “baby parts” video wasn’t the only heavily edited, illegally filmed footage that Daleiden and Merritt procured. Between October 2013 and July 2015, they filmed 14 meetings between Planned Parenthood employees in three different counties, all under false pretenses. They claimed they were interested in creating partnerships between Planned Parenthood and medical research companies.
Even after the indictment was announced, Daleiden claims that he did nothing wrong.
“It was nothing more than a First Amendment journalist pursuing a good cause and fighting a battle, now a martyr who’s being crushed by the power of the state of California,” said Steve Cooley, a former Los Angeles district attorney, who represents Daleiden.
Merritt and Daleiden were previously indicted on similar charges by a Texas court in 2016, but the charges were overturned as the prosecutors felt the grand jury had overstepped its authority. The grand jury was originally investigating Planned Parenthood due to the videos, but ended up charging Merritt and Daleiden instead.