The anti-abortion activists who secretly recorded videos accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue have been charged with 15 crimes.
David Robert Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt are facing 15 felony counts of recording a confidential communication, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Tuesday. California law requires that all people involved in a recorded conversation consent to the recording.
"The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
Daleiden in 2015 released the videos through his group, the Center for Medical Progress, to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally profiting off the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood denied the claims, which sparked congressional hearings and investigations in more than a dozen states, and released a report calling the videos deceptive.
None of the investigations found Planned Parenthood guilty of wrongdoing, but it kicked off a national debate surrounding abortion, almost leading to the shutdown of the US government. When a gunman later that year attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, he used language from Daleiden's videos to justify his actions, saying he wanted "no more baby body parts."
Daleiden and Merritt were previously charged in Texas, but the case was dropped after a grand jury missed a deadline.
In an email to BuzzFeed News, Daleiden said the "real criminals" are Planned Parenthood.
"These bogus charges from Planned Parenthood's political cronies are fake news," he said.
A member of Daleiden's legal defense team, vocally anti–abortion rights lawyer Tom Brejcha, said that Daleiden and Merritt "will assert robust defenses to these charges."
"When it comes to felony charges against our client, David Daleiden, history is on our side," he said.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood said that more than a dozen investigations have shown the organization did nothing wrong, while the people behind the videos broke the law.
"The California Attorney General filing criminal charges sends a clear message that you cannot target women and you cannot target health care providers without consequences," said Mary Alice Carter of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "We look forward to justice being served."
Daleiden and at least two others created fake California IDs — images of which were obtained by BuzzFeed News in 2015 — to pose as representatives of a fictional fetal tissue procurement company. Between July 2014 and September 2015, Daleiden and Merritt met with health care providers while wearing concealed recording devices, authorities said. When the videos created from those recordings were then posted online, several of the health care providers began receiving death threats, authorities said.
Before filing the charges, investigators reviewed more than 2,300 video clips taken from Daleiden's home in Huntington Beach, California. Eight victims of confidential recording were identified in San Francisco, three in Los Angeles, and three in El Dorado County.
Daleiden added he still has more video from Planned Parenthood that has yet to be released — which, if it was recorded without consent, would also be against California law.
"I look forward to showing the entire world what is on our yet-unreleased video tapes of Planned Parenthood’s criminal baby body parts enterprise, in vindication of the First Amendment rights of all," he said.
The day after Daleiden and Merritt were charged, CMP released a new video containing footage of a conversation with an abortion provider about the effects of different abortion procedures on stem-cell procurement. It is unclear whether this is all of the “yet unreleased video tapes” to which Daleiden was referring.
Update: This article has been edited post-publication to remove politicized language used by pro- and anti-abortion rights activists.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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Ema O'Connor is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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