California prosecutors filed 15 felony charges against two anti-abortion activists who recorded undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood.
David Robert Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt invaded the privacy of medical providers by filming undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
The pair used false identities and created a fictitious bioresearch company to secretly record conversations with women’s health care providers, according to Becerra.
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” he said. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
A warrant was issued for their arrest.
Daleiden is a project lead for the Center for Medical Progress, which produced a series of videos in 2014 depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue and appearing to talk about the price for such tissue.
Planned Parenthood maintains that it did not profit from the sale of fetal tissue.
The videos were edited and in some cases contained footage that was not of aborted fetuses. In one, Daleiden used footage of a still-born child he found online with a narration about a Planned Parenthood abortion of a fetus the same age.
In January last year, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress, alleging the defendants lied their way into the recorded meetings and set up a fake company and personal identities to pull off the videos.
The complaint Tuesday, which was filed in state Superior Court in San Francisco, said they used the names “Robert Sarkis” and “Susan Tennenbaum” of Biomax Procurement Services.
They used the false credentials to attend a 2014 conference of the National Abortion Federation in San Francisco, where they secretly recorded attendees, according to the complaint.
They also met with representatives of health care professionals in Los Angeles and secretly recorded them, according to court documents.
Edited videos of the meetings appeared on the Center for Medical Progress website in July 2015, investigators said.
The videos became an intense topic on last year’s campaign trail, with Republicans using them as evidence to call for the dismantling of Planned Parenthood, while Democrats rallied around the organization.
Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress slammed the criminal complaint early Wednesday.
“The bogus charges from Planned Parenthood’s political cronies are fake news,” they said in a statement.” … The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners.”
Daleiden said they plan to release more videos.
“We look forward to showing the entire world what is on our yet-unreleased videotapes of Planned Parenthood’s criminal baby body parts enterprise, in vindication of the First Amendment rights of all.”
The National Abortion Federation welcomed the charges.
“As we’ve known all along, David Daleiden and his co-conspirators are the ones who broke the law, not abortion providers,” its president, Vicki Saporta, said in a statement.
California is a “two-party consent” state, where both sides of a conversation have to know they are being recorded for it to be legal. So if one doesn’t know they are being recorded, the recording may very well have been obtained illegally.