- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Apparently neither lawsuits nor indictments can stop the Center for Medical Progress from releasing anti-Planned Parenthood videos.

The pro-life group displayed its chutzpah Wednesday by posting a 12th hidden-camera video accusing Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of using “accounting gimmicks” to “hide its illegal sale of fetal tissue.”

Hours later, Center for Medical Progress investigator Sandra Merritt appeared before a judge in Harris County District Court on charges stemming from her involvement in the probe of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. She posted bond after it was reduced from $10,000 to $2,000.

Afterward, attorney Dan Cogdell blasted what he described as an overzealous prosecution.

“The indictment is wrong-headed,” Mr. Cogdell said, according to The Associated Press in Houston. “I don’t care if you’re pro-life. I don’t care if you’re pro-choice. This case is dumber than a bucket of hair.”

Scheduled to appear in court Thursday is lead investigator David Daleiden. He and Ms. Merritt were indicted Jan. 25 by a Harris County grand jury on charges of tampering with government records after they created fake driver’s licenses for purposes of their investigation.

Mr. Daleiden was also indicted on a charge of attempting to purchase human organs, namely fetal tissue, through a dummy corporation set up as part of the investigation.

The decision to release another video immediately before the court appearances may not have been the best way to impress the judge, but it does show that the pro-life center isn’t finished with its fight against Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood showed no sign of backing down. Executive Vice President Dawn Laugens blasted Mr. Daleiden in a Wednesday op-ed in USA Today and declared, “It’s time for politicians across the country to stop giving him credibility and start treating him like what prosecutors say he is — a criminal.”

Pro-lifers were stunned when the Harris County grand jury indicted Center for Medical Progress investigators instead of officials at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. They said that decision may come back to haunt Planned Parenthood.

“Obviously, it’s rekindled an interest in what’s going on,” said lawyer Charles LiMandri, president of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, who represents the center in the lawsuit filed by StemExpress, the California fetal tissue procurement company featured in some videos.

“And I think it’s going to end up backfiring big time on Planned Parenthood, because the more people find out about what’s going on, the worse it is going to look for them,” Mr. LiMandri said.

The Resurgent’s Steve Berman called the indictments “a huge gift,” saying the case will force a court to examine the accusations made in the videos against Planned Parenthood.

“The videos will be — finally — examined in a court of law for veracity,” Mr. Berman said in a Jan. 26 post. “Whatever laws may have been broken by CMP’s investigative methods won’t amount to a hill of beans if the videos are entered as evidence, examined by a jury, and the truthfulness of that record is established. It’s going to be very uncomfortable for PP executives on the witness stand, under direct and cross-examination by CMP’s defense counsel.”

The center could use a court win: Planned Parenthood has scored a string of legal victories against a half-dozen states that have moved to cut off funding for the abortion provider, with judges agreeing to place holds on the defunding orders pending the outcomes of lawsuits.

The center itself has been mired in legal battles after being sued by StemExpress and the National Abortion Federation. Planned Parenthood filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the center for what it described as a “complex criminal enterprise to defraud Planned Parenthood.”

But the grand jury indictments against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt also have reignited their supporters. A petition calling for the charges to be dropped has gathered more than 100,000 signatures, while pro-life groups have accused the Harris County district attorney’s office of pursuing a political prosecution.

Critics have pointed out that a prosecutor in the office also sits on the board of Planned Parenthood.

District Attorney Devon Anderson has denied that politics played a role in her pursuit of the case and said the prosecutor recused herself from any involvement.

The center’s latest video repackages previously released footage showing Melissa Farrell, director of research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in which she discusses the costs and billings associated with fetal tissue from abortions.

“I think definitely an a la carte approach would be the best,” Ms. Farrell says, referring to different fetal organs.

“How we frame it, I think, is important, too,” she says. “That we’re not altering anything, and it’s clear that we’re not altering anything, even if the procedure itself, there’s a modification in how they do it, it’s still the same procedure but we’re doing it in a way that we preserve the integrity of the specimen.”

Federal law prohibits altering abortion techniques to obtain fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but Planned Parenthood officials have described the Center for Medical Progress videos as “deceptively edited” and said they fail to show any wrongdoing on the part of affiliate officials.

Multiple interviews with Planned Parenthood officials show them discussing and even negotiating the prices for fetal tissue, but Planned Parenthood has argued that its affiliates have been reimbursed only for costs, which is legal.

The latest video also shows what the center says are documents obtained through a Public Information Act request showing two invoices for the same billing period in 2010 that charge both $25 and $150 for “consents obtained” from pregnant women to donate their aborted fetal tissue for research.

“The evidence that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast charged exorbitant amounts of taxpayer money in exchange for fetal specimens that it provided at nearly zero cost is overwhelming,” Mr. Daleiden said in a Wednesday statement.

He asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton to “send a strong message that Houston’s children are not for sale,” and “immediately appoint a special prosecutor to hold Planned Parenthood accountable to the law.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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