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Saturday, October 21, 2017

By Ruthy Munoz

HOUSTON (Reuters) – An anti-abortion activist indicted for using a fake driver’s license ID to aid secret filming inside Planned Parenthood facilities turned himself into authorities in Houston on Thursday and was offered a probation deal, prosecutors said.

David Daleiden, indicted in January by a Houston-area grand jury, appeared at Harris County District Court on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, which can bring up to 20 years in prison. He also faces a misdemeanor charge for trying to procure fetal tissue.

Daleiden leads the California-based Center for Medical Progress that released the secretly filmed videos used to accuse the women’s health group of trading in aborted fetal tissue.

He was offered a probation deal in which, if he keeps a clean record for a certain period of time, charges would be dropped, prosecutors said.

Daleiden’s lawyers said he planned to reject the deal and is seeking an apology from prosecutors.

Daleiden told a news conference outside court that he wants Texas to prosecute Planned Parenthood, saying it “is open for business in baby body parts.”

Planned Parenthood has denied Daleiden’s allegations and sued in federal court, arguing the people who recorded the videos acted illegally.

In a twist for the Texas Republican leaders who had ordered an investigation, the grand jury in January cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing and indicted video makers Daleiden and Sandra Merritt.

“We’re glad they’re being held accountable, and we hope other law enforcement agencies pursue criminal charges, as well,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Merritt, a lesser figure in the filming, appeared at a Houston court on Wednesday and was also offered a probation deal.

Lawyers for the activist do not dispute that the pair used false IDs but said they did so for investigative journalism.

Countering that contention, Eric Ferrero, vice president at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “We don’t know of any journalists who have engaged in wire fraud and mail fraud, lied to multiple government agencies, tampered with government documents, and broken laws in at least four states only to lie about what they found. It’s hard to imagine anyone calling that ‘journalism’.”

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. U.S. congressional Republicans pushed for a funding cut.

Planned Parenthood has said Daleiden and Merritt presented 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.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Grant McCool, Toni Reinhold)

Photo: A member of the New York Police Department stands outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Manhattan borough of New York, November 28, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly