Duo Behind Anti-Planned Parenthood Videos Could Finally See Justice

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have been indicted on 15 counts of illegal recording and conspiracy

Planned Parenthood was the target of a series of deceptively edited undercover videos in 2015. Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty

Remember back in the summer of 2015, when videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue were being released online seemingly every week? Those videos seeped into the national consciousness and have colored the ongoing debate about federal funding for the organization. They impacted the national discussion even though we quickly learned that they were a complete lie, as they were deceptively edited to make it appear that Planned Parenthood was violating the law when in reality it was not.

At the time, many people – including me – argued that the video-makers violated many laws to create them, as they recorded people without their knowledge or consent, something that is illegal in California, where many of the videos were filmed.

As the saying goes, the wheels of justice grind slowly. But over the past 24 hours – more than 20 months after the videos were first released – justice has been meted out to the people behind the videos not once, but twice. On Tuesday night, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, two of the people behind the video operation, were indicted on 15 counts of illegal recording and conspiracy in violation of California law. And Wednesday afternoon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Daleiden could not release any more videos he illegally obtained at private professional meetings.

The criminal charges stem from California's law requiring any recording of a person to be done with consent. Violation of this law is a felony, and the indictment issued Tuesday alleges that Daleiden and Merritt violated this law 14 different times in locations throughout the state. The indictment also includes a separate charge for conspiracy to violate California's law against secret recordings.

These aren't the only legal problems that Daleiden and Merritt have found themselves in as a result of the videos. They were previously indicted in Houston for tampering with government records – creating fake driver's licenses to go about their operation – though the charges were ultimately dismissed. Still ongoing are two lawsuits against them for invasion of privacy and other claims. One is by Planned Parenthood for conspiracy to defraud and take down the organization, as well as wire fraud, mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing. The second is by the National Abortion Federation, an organization of abortion providers whose conference they infiltrated, for videotaping in violation of the confidentiality agreements that participants at the conference must sign.

(Full disclosure: I am a member of the National Abortion Federation and was at the San Francisco conference where Daleiden and Merritt filmed participants without consent. To the best of my knowledge, I was not filmed. Also, I have written two briefs in pending cases against Daleiden related to this issue, including this one.)

Daleiden found himself on the wrong side of the law once again Wednesday afternoon in this second lawsuit. As a preliminary matter in the suit, the trial court had ruled that while the case is pending, Daleiden cannot release any future videos from the private meetings because it would violate the contract he signed to get into the meeting and because it would possibly harm the people in the videos, who would be subject to harassment and threats. The ruling from the Ninth Circuit agreed with the lower court that no further videos from the meeting can be released.

On the flip side of the issue, as a result of the videos, there have been no findings anywhere that Planned Parenthood has violated the law in the way it handles fetal tissue. There have been congressional investigations and over a dozen state-level investigations, and each one has failed to find that Planned Parenthood did anything wrong.

That doesn't mean Planned Parenthood hasn't suffered as a result of the videos. The organization has had to defend itself across the country, in the media, in legislatures and in courts. Furthermore, Republicans have used the videos to help argue that no more federal funds should be sent to Planned Parenthood, something that is still a top priority for Republicans in Washington even after the defeat of their health care bill last week.

And, like abortion providers across the country, as a result of the videos, Planned Parenthood has seen a huge uptick in anti-abortion violence. The most tragic event occurred on November 27th, 2015, when Robert Dear attacked the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, killing three and injuring nine. His comments about "baby parts" at the scene of the crime indicate he was motivated in part by the videos. Beyond this devastating attack, clinics have also been firebombed and vandalized, and individual providers have received death threats and experienced other forms of targeted harassment.

As evidenced over the past 24 hours, while Planned Parenthood continues to fight for its continued existence and good name, Daleiden and Merritt may finally be brought to justice for their malicious attacks on the organization.