AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Two anti-abortion campaigners who secretly filmed a Planned Parenthood official discussing fetal tissue procurement used fake driver’s licenses to enter the group’s offices in the Houston area, court papers released in Texas on Tuesday said.
In a twist for the Texas Republican leaders who ordered the probe, accusing the women’s health group of illegally trading in aborted fetal tissue, a grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood and indicted video makers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on Monday for tampering with a governmental record.
Documents filed in Harris County court showed California driver’s licenses for the pair when they were making the video - Daleiden used an ID in the name of Robert David Sarkis and Merritt posed as Susan Sarah Tennenbaum.
The court papers said the pair unlawfully used a fake government record “with the intent to defraud or harm others.” They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Planned Parenthood said on Tuesday that Daleiden and Merritt presented the fake IDs in April 2015 and posed as research executives from a fictitious company to secretly film conversations at a health and administrative center in Houston.
“Their goal was to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood to advance their extreme anti-abortion agenda,” Melaney Linton, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast told a teleconference.
A lawyer for the group told the teleconference there was no indication the grand jury considered charges against it.
A woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 but it remains a divisive issue in the United States. Planned Parenthood, which provides healthcare services to millions of women nationwide, including abortions, has denied any wrongdoing.
The Center for Medical Progress, led by Daleiden, said in a statement on Monday that it “uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who has accused Planned Parenthood of the “gruesome harvesting of baby body parts,” has said Texas would continue its investigation.
The videos released last summer purported to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to negotiate prices for aborted fetal tissue. Under federal law, donated human fetal tissue may be used for research, but profiting from its sale is prohibited.
In response to the videos, Texas and other Republican-controlled states tried to halt funding for Planned Parenthood operations, with Republicans in the U.S. Congress also pushing for a funding cut.
Planned Parenthood sued Center for Medical Progress on Jan. 14 in San Francisco federal court arguing that the people who recorded the videos acted illegally.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Grant McCool