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Undercover videos of fetal tissue talks spur felony charges

Undercover videos of fetal tissue talks spur felony charges

LOS ANGELES — Two anti-abortion activists who secretly recorded Planned Parenthood conversations about fetal tissue must each face more than a dozen felony charges.

California’s new Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed 15 counts apiece Tuesday against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center of Medical Progress, saying the videos showing discussions of fetal tissue were made without the consent of the people in them in violation of state law.

Becerra, a longtime Congressional Democrat who took over the investigation in January, said in a statement that the state “will not tolerate the criminal recording of conversations.”

The charges come eight months after similar charges against the pair were dropped in Texas.

California prosecutors say Daleiden, of Davis, California, and Merritt, of San Jose, filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person recorded. The 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.

Daleiden said in an email to The Associated Press that the “bogus” charges are coming from “Planned Parenthood’s political cronies.”

“The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners,” Daleiden said.

The conversations included officials from Planned Parenthood and StemExpress, a California company that provides blood, tissue and other biological material for medical research and had received fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.

In one of the pair’s videos, Daleiden poses as “Robert Sarkis” of the phoney Biomax Procurement Services and is shown discussing liver tissue with the chief executive of StemExpress at a Northern California restaurant.

Abortion opponents said the recordings showed Planned Parenthood was illegally harvesting and selling the organs. Planned Parenthood said the videos were deceptively edited to support extremists’ false claims.

“As we have said from the beginning, and as more than a dozen different state investigations have made clear: 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 Planned Parenthood, in a statement.

In April of last year, Daleiden said in a Facebook post that California Department of Justice agents raided his home, seizing all of his video footage along with personal information.

Since then the case had gone largely quiet, with virtually no revelations about the investigation and no indication that the charges were coming before they were filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.

The case is one of the first of high-profile prosecutions for Becerra, who left the U.S. House to take over for Kamala Harris after she became a U.S. Senator.

Daleiden and Merritt had previously been indicted in Texas on similar charges in January of 2016, but all of the charges were eventually dropped by July as prosecutors said a grand jury had overstepped its authority. The grand jury had originally been convened to investigate Planned Parenthood, but after finding no wrongdoing turned around and indicted Daleiden and Merritt instead.

The videos reignited the American abortion debate when they were released in 2015, and increased Congressional heat against Planned Parenthood that has yet to subside.

Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press

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