A pair of Irvine-based, anti-abortion activists, their lawyers and their supporters are hailing as a First Amendment victory a Texas prosecutor's decision Tuesday to drop felony charges against both.
But Planned Parenthood, the frequent target of David Daleiden and Sandra "Susan" Merritt's undercover "journalism," counter that the dismissal was tied to a technical error with the way the grand-jury indictment was filed and that it does not mean crimes did not occur.
Indeed, the family planning organization still has pending civil complaints against Daleiden, Merritt and their Center for Medical Progress, whose address is an Irvine Postal Annex store box.
The Harris County, Texas, case against CMS actually sprang out of moves by officials in the Lone Star state to defund Planned Parenthood. To help them make that case, CMS last summer sent undercover video Daleiden and Merritt had facilitated that seemed to show the abortion provider admitting to illegally profiting off dead fetuses and fetal tissue.
After the video surfaced, the Texas lieutenant governor, a Republican, asked the Republican district attorney in Harris County to examine Planned Parenthood. A grand jury ended up indicting 27-year-old Daleiden and 62-year-old Merritt, and taking no action against Planned Parenthood, which has claimed the videos CMS submitted were illegally obtained and edited to put its administrators in false lights.
Daleiden and Merritt's lawyers claimed their clients were simply practicing good undercover journalism, just as major television network reporters do with their hidden-camera reports.
"Today's dismissal in Houston is a huge win for the First Amendment rights of undercover journalists," said Daleiden's lawyer Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society. "David Daleiden used standard undercover journalism techniques and followed all applicable laws in doing so. This meritless and retaliatory prosecution should never have been brought. Planned Parenthood did wrong here, not David Daleiden."
Echoing the sentiments of the lawyer from the Chicago-based, pro-life law firm was Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Orlando, Florida-based Liberty Counsel, another conservative firm that represented Merritt.
"We celebrate this victory for Sandra Merritt as she did nothing wrong," Staver said. "She exposed the sale of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood and today she has been vindicated. The indictment was politically motivated and should never have been filed in the first place.”
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As mentioned above, that's now how Planned Parenthood sees it, at least not the Gulf Coast chapter's president and CEO.
“Planned Parenthood provides high-quality, compassionate health care and has been cleared of any wrongdoing time and again. Daleidan and other anti-abortion extremists, on the other hand, spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, and lying," says Melaney A. Linton, the CEO.
"When they couldn’t find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up. They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda. The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud.”
Planned Parenthood has three pending lawsuits against CMS, including one filed in San Francisco, where Liberty Counsel lawyers are also defending Merritt.