Planned Parenthood again finds itself in a battle to protect its government funding and tarnished reputation, while secret investigators who uncovered the abortion giant’s latest scandal fight felony charges.
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today (March 30) on a measure that would free states to bar funds for Planned Parenthood, while members of the House of Representatives consider what approach to take to slash federal money for the country’s No. 1 abortion provider.
On March 28, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced 15 felony counts against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, charging them with illegally recording or conspiring to record confidential communications. The undercover investigators with the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing their sale of fetal parts, as well as their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use. The investigators also clandestinely recorded conversations with officials of fetal tissue procurement businesses that work with Planned Parenthood.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore decried the development.
"Planned Parenthood has been exposed as a gruesome human trafficking operation that exploits women and communities,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “What we saw on those videos demands justice, not politically driven revenge on those who exposed the truth.
“My prayer is that Planned Parenthood would be held accountable and that those who courageously shed light on the culture of death would be protected rather than prosecuted," Moore told Baptist Press in written comments.
Daleiden said in a written statement, “The bogus charges from Planned Parenthood’s political cronies are fake news. . . . The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners . . . who have harvested and sold aborted baby body parts for profit for years in direct violation of state and federal law.”
Tom Brejcha, president of the Thomas More Society and a member of the defense team for the CMP investigators, said the efforts by Daleiden and Merritt advanced “First Amendment values and are clothed with the same Constitutional protection that all investigative journalists deserve and must enjoy. Undercover journalism has been a vital tool in our politics and self-governance.“
Planned Parenthood welcomed the indictments.
“Planned Parenthood has done nothing wrong, and the only people who broke the law are those behind the fraudulent tapes,” said Mary Alice Carter, interim vice president of communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), in a written release. “We look forward to justice being served.”
It is not the first time Daleiden and Merritt have faced charges after posing as representatives of a biologics firm to record the conversations. Harris County dropped charges against the pair in July stemming from their undercover work at a Planned Parenthood center in Houston.
Following the 2015 release of the first undercover videos, Daleiden spoke at the inaugural Evangelicals for Life conference -- which is sponsored annually by the ERLC and Focus on the Family -- in January 2016 in Washington, D.C.
At the time, Daleiden explained his ethical approach to the clandestine operation: "I think that undercover work is fundamentally different from lying, because the purpose of undercover work is to serve the truth and to bring the truth to greater clarity and to communicate the truth more strongly."
A day after the California charges were announced, CMP released its latest undercover video, which showed a former Planned Parenthood medical director explaining late-term abortions to procure body parts. Her description seemed to imply some babies were delivered alive in the abortion process but died outside the womb.
At a Planned Parenthood conference, DeShawn Taylor – formerly medical director of Planned Parenthood of Arizona who previously performed abortions for Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles and was trained by a PPFA executive – told covert CMP investigators about harvesting intact organs, “[I]t’s not a matter of how I feel about [the baby] coming out intact, but I gotta worry about my staff and . . . people’s feelings about it coming out looking like a baby.”
Taylor said on the video, “[I]n Arizona, if the fetus comes out with any signs of life, we’re supposed to transport it – to the hospital.”
When asked if there were a standard of verifying “signs of life,” she said, “Well, the thing is, I mean the key is, you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right?”
If approved, the resolution to be acted on by the Senate March 30 would rescind an Obama administration rule issued in December that effectively restricts states from prohibiting funds for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. The measure barely reached the Senate floor earlier in the day. Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie in favor of a motion for the legislation to proceed.
The House voted 230-188 for the proposal, House Joint Resolution 43, in February.
In recent years, at least 12 states have cut money for Planned Parenthood. Courts have blocked those actions in some cases, thereby enabling the organization to continue to receive government funds.
Congressional foes of funding Planned Parenthood had hoped to cut money for the organization through passage of a proposal to repeal and replace the 2010 health-care law. House Republicans, however, were unable to achieve enough votes for passage March 24. If no health-care bill is forthcoming, supporters of defunding PPFA could use another procedural process to reach their goal.
Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available. PPFA and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15).
The ERLC is conducting an online advertising campaign to rally support for the congressional effort to slash federal dollars for Planned Parenthood. The effort is the first of its kind by the ERLC and includes a digital petition for delivery to congressional leaders. The petition is available for signing here.
With reporting by Sharayah Colter, writer for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.