A Houston grand jury investigating criminal allegations against Planned Parenthood stemming from a series of undercover videos on Monday instead indicted two of the anti-abortion activists who shot the footage.
In a stunning turn of events, the grand jury declined to indict officials from the abortion provider, and instead handed up a felony charges of tampering with a government record against Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden and center employee Sandra Merritt. Daleidon was also charged with a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs.
"We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast," Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said. "As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case."
The case sprang from a series of dramatic undercover videos in which Center for Medical Progress employees posed as prospective buyers of fetal tissue, and captured several employees of Planned Parenthood and its contractors appearing to discuss practices banned by law. However, when the videos were released online last year, Planned Parenthood claimed selective editing had created a misperception.
Anderson didn't provide details on the charges, including what record or records were allegedly tampered with and why Daleiden faces a charge related to buying human organs. Anderson's office said it could not provide details until the documents charging Daleiden and Merritt were formally made public.
"The Center for Medical Progress uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press, and follows all applicable laws," Daleiden said in a statement in response to the indictment.
"We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well. Planned Parenthood still cannot deny the admissions from their leadership about fetal organ sales captured on video for all the world to see," the statement continued.
Planned Parenthood officials swiftly hailed the indictment as vindication.
"These anti-abortion extremists spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, lying, and breaking the law. When they couldn't find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up," Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
“As the dust settles and the truth comes out, it's become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we're glad they're being held accountable,” Ferrero said.
The videos, some of which were shot in Texas, riled anti-abortion activists and prompted Republicans in Congress last summer to unsuccessfully called for cutting off funding for the organization.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has called footage from the Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston "repulsive and unconscionable." It showed people pretending to be from a company that procures fetal tissue for research touring the facility. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also opened his own investigation into the videos.
Abbott said the indictments will not impact the state's investigation
“The State of Texas will continue to protect life, and I will continue to support legislation prohibiting the sale or transfer of fetal tissue,” he said in a statement.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., author of the House-passed "Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015," said the she was “profoundly disappointed” in the indictments.
“It is a sad day in America when those who harvest the body parts of aborted babies escape consequences for their actions, while the courageous truth-tellers who expose their misdeeds are handed down a politically motivated indictment instead,” she said.
Planned Parenthood says it abides by a law that allows providers to be reimbursed for the costs of processing tissue donated by women who have had abortions.
The Texas video was the fifth released by the group. Before its release, Melaney Linton, president of the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic, told state lawmakers last summer that it was likely to feature actors — pretending to be from a company called BioMax — asking leading questions about how to select potential donors for a supposed study of sickle cell anemia.
Linton said the footage could feature several interactions initiated by BioMax about how and whether a doctor could adjust an abortion if the patient has offered to donate tissue for medical research. She also said Planned Parenthood believed the video would be manipulated.
Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood sued the center in a California federal court, alleging extensive criminal misconduct. The lawsuit says the center's videos were the result of numerous illegalities, including making recordings without consent, registering false identities with state agencies and violating non-disclosure agreements.
After the lawsuit was filed, Daleiden told The Associated Press that he looked forward to confronting Planned Parenthood in court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.