photo by Charlotte Cooper
Texas officials who oppose abortion wanted a grand jury investigation of charges that Planned Parenthood officials illegally sold fetal tissues obtained from abortions.
When the grand jury returned its indictments this week, it was a classic example of the adage “Be careful what you wish for.”
Rather than indict Planned Parenthood or any of its employees, the Houston panel indicted two anti-abortion activists who posed as medical researchers to try to trap the organization. The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing related to the incident. The activists with the Center for Medical Progress were indicted for tampering with a governmental record, a felony, and a misdemeanor charge related to an attempt to purchase human organs.
David Daleiden, the Center for Medical Progress’ founder, and Sandra Merritt were involved in creating covert videos last year that set off nationwide controversy and investigations in multiple states, including Texas. Planned Parenthood has said these videos, which purported to show the organization’s employees approaching the sale of fetal tissue in a cavalier manner, were highly edited and misleading. A private research company supported the organization’s argument in an analysis released last summer. Yet the Center for Medical Progress maintained that the videos were still evidence of a “criminal conspiracy” reaching “to the very highest levels of [Planned Parenthood’s] organization,” as Daleiden claimed in a statement at the time.
Despite this rhetoric, nothing emerged to substantiate the claim that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue. Two Planned Parenthood branches in the U.S. currently participate in tissue donation programs, the organization has said, and Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast acknowledged that it donated fetal tissue in 2010 but said that it made no profit from the donation. In the videos, when discussing such a potential arrangement with individuals claiming to be medical researchers, members of the organization simply discussed reimbursement for the expenses involved in such a transfer. Such an arrangement is legal.
Left out of the discussion almost entirely is the important role that fetal tissue can - and does - play in medical research. Robin Abcarian, writing for the Los Angeles Times, reminded readers that “Without fetal cells, we probably wouldn’t have vaccines for German measles, chicken pox and polio.” Such tissue is also crucial in ongoing research for some of our most fearsome diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and AIDS.
While it is fair to acknowledge the sensitivity of abortion opponents who equate the practice to murder and believe any use of the results is morally wrong, abortion remains legal. The use of the resulting tissues in research could end up saving many other lives. A truly pro-life movement ought to consider that outcome when choosing how to direct its criticism.
Meanwhile, the grand jury’s response to the investigation of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, along with the manner in which Harris County prosecutors handled the investigation, serve as a proud moment for the grand jury system in particular and the justice system in general. Rather than levy charges against the original targets, as those calling for the investigation had presumably intended, prosecutors made good on their pledge to follow the evidence wherever it led.
Other Texas officials (notably the state’s lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who was the first to call for the Harris County district attorney to investigate) have already downplayed the grand jury’s findings in their ongoing attacks on Planned Parenthood. Gov. Greg Abbott, who also called for investigations early on, has said that the grand jury’s decision will not stop the state-level investigation into Planned Parenthood, and his position was supported by equally emotion-driven rhetoric from the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton.
These officials, like the activists who targeted the organization in the first place, have a right to their views and to their continuing efforts to achieve their ends through proper legislative or judicial processes. I do not endorse their goals, but I respect their right to use democratic methods to achieve them. But those methods are constrained by the laws that put fraud, counterfeiting and other abuses outside the bounds of legitimate political activity.
The so-called investigation of Planned Parenthood was obviously a setup. This grand jury did well to call out the perpetrators, as well as to find a law-abiding organization blameless. Regardless of how the charges are ultimately resolved, that’s justice.