WASHINGTON― Republicans in Congress have been citing a series of undercover sting videos for nearly two years to justify their $1.6 million investigation into Planned Parenthood and efforts to defund the nation’s largest family planning provider. The creators of those videos were slapped with 15 felony charges in an arrest warrant Tuesday night, making it awkward for the GOP to continue to tout the activists’ recordings.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra charged David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the anti-abortion activists behind the videos, with “15 felony counts of violating the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without their consent,” The Washington Post first reported. Hours later, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the National Abortion Federation a preliminary injunction prohibiting Daleiden and his colleagues from releasing any more recordings and materials that were illegally obtained.
“It’s profoundly troubling that the Republican majority was willing to promote the handiwork of alleged felons,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House select panel that spent 15 months on an investigation of Planned Parenthood sparked by the videos.
Daleiden called the charges “fake news” in a statement on Wednesday.
“We 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,” Daleiden said.
The 2015 videos purport to show Planned Parenthood employees negotiating the sale of fetal tissue after abortions. Daleiden and Merritt created fake driver’s licenses and fake identities to gain access to medical conferences, and secretly recorded Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal tissue donations. The family planning provider maintains that it donates fetal tissue for medical research and receives reimbursements only for the associated costs, which is legal.
An analysis of the undercover footage revealed that it was heavily edited to mislead viewers, and more than a dozen state investigations into Planned Parenthood found no wrongdoing. But Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures have continued to cite the videos as evidence that Planned Parenthood “sells baby parts.”
“Everyone should see the video,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said in a press conference last month as he called for defunding Planned Parenthood. “They want to sell the body parts of these little children after they’ve murdered them.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), with the support of President Donald Trump, tried to defund Planned Parenthood last week in the failed GOP health care bill. Still, conservative lawmakers are looking for other ways to stop Medicaid from reimbursing Planned Parenthood for health services to low-income women, including birth control, pap smears and sexually transmitted infection screenings. Ryan said this week that he still plans to attack Planned Parenthood funding in the budget reconciliation process.
Defunding Planned Parenthood was never going to be easy for Republicans: Three out of four Americans favor continuing funding for the provider, according to a Kaiser poll released last week. The 15 new criminal charges against the star of the anti-Planned Parenthood movement are only going to make that fight more politically difficult.
“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 a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood. “We look forward to justice being served.”