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Indicted CMP employee turns herself in; Planned Parenthood official calls on lawmakers 'to stop giving [CMP] credibility'

An indicted employee of the Center for Medical Progress, who helped secretly record misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood, turned herself in to Texas authorities on Wednesday, according to her attorney, the Washington Post's "Post Nation" reports (Somashekhar,"Post Nation," Washington Post, 2/3).

Background

Last summer, CMP began releasing a series of misleading videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue donation. Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. Further, a report by Fusion GPS, a research and corporate intelligence firm, found that the videos were manipulated.

Following the release of the videos, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) called for the Harris County district attorney to launch a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. The Harris County grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood cleared the organization of any wrongdoing and instead indicted CMP Director David Daleiden and employee Sandra Merritt.

Both Daleiden and Merritt were indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record. In addition, Daleiden was indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to buying fetal tissue.

According to the record-tampering charges, Daleiden and Merritt created false California drivers licenses and used them with intent to defraud when they met with PPGC officials in April 2015. Josh Schaffer, a lawyer representing PPGC, said the misdemeanor charge likely is related to emails Daleiden sent to Planned Parenthood in June 2015, in which he offered to pay $1,600 per fetal tissue sample. Schaffer said Planned Parenthood did not reply to the offer.

The charge of tampering with a governmental record carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the misdemeanor charge carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/28).

Latest developments

According to "Post Nation," Merritt was released after posting a $2,000 bond. Her attorneys said prosecutors offered to downgrade the charges against Merritt from a felony to a misdemeanor, which meant she could likely avoid a jail sentence if found guilty. However, Merritt rejected the offer.

Daleiden's attorneys said he intends to turn himself in today.

Eric Ferrero, vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), applauded the news. "The wheels of justice have only begun to roll," he said, adding, "These people broke multiple federal laws and violated the law in at least four states, all in order to spread lies about Planned Parenthood. We're glad they're being held accountable, and we hope other law enforcement agencies pursue criminal charges as well" ("Post Nation," Washington Post, 2/3).

Op-ed: Misleading videos spurred antiabortion-rights legislation, violence against providers

In related news, Dawn Laguens, PPFA's executive vice president and chief experience officer, in a USA Today opinion piece cites the Houston investigation and calls on "politicians across the country to stop giving [Daleiden] credibility and start treating him like what prosecutors say he is -- a criminal."

She writes, "The grand jury in Houston isn't the only official body to determine that Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong." According to Laguens, "Officials in twelve states (Kansas, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada and South Dakota) concluded investigations into claims that Planned Parenthood sold or profited from fetal tissue donation and each one has cleared Planned Parenthood of such wrongdoing," as has at least one congressional investigation. Moreover, "Eight other states have declined to even investigate, citing a lack of evidence," she notes.

Despite these findings, "politicians all across the country who oppose women's access to health jump on the chance to advance their anti-abortion agenda -- often at the expense of low-income women and communities of color," Laguens writes. She states that abortion opponents in Congress and "multiple states -- such as Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas -- ... have used Daleiden's deceptions as justification for bills to strip low-income women on Medicaid of their ability to use Planned Parenthood health centers for preventive health services."

According to Laguens, "Half of Planned Parenthood's patients rely on Medicaid and other federally-funded health care programs," and "[f]or many, Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider they will see all year."

She writes, "Beyond public policy, these criminals have stoked inflammatory rhetoric which has created a poisonous environment leading to violent attacks on women's reproductive health care providers." Laguens cites "a nine-fold increase in threats against [Planned Parenthood] health centers since this fraudulent smear campaign began" and points to the deadly shooting at the organization's clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., last year.

"David Daleiden lied and broke the law," Laguens writes, and "[h]e has never hidden his political agenda to outlaw safe and legal abortion and end Planned Parenthood's ability to provide health care." Noting that the "real casualty" of CMP's videos "is the millions of women, men and young people who have been targeted as a result," Laguens calls on "[t]hose who took this bait [to] take a hard look at the impact of their words and actions." She concludes, "Americans -- especially women and trusted medical providers -- deserve better than this illegal and unwarranted harassment. It's high time these individuals and politicians start being held accountable" (Laguens, USA Today, 2/3).