Two anti-abortion activists who secretly recorded Planned Parenthood conversations were charged with 15 felonies on Tuesday, with California prosecutors saying they violated state law by filming medical providers without their consent.
David Robert Daleiden and Sandra Merritt face 15 charges each for creating the infamous "sting videos" that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue and placed the organization in the center of a political firestorm.
"The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California's Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday. "We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations."
Daleiden and Merritt filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and El Dorado counties, according to the complaint (pdf). They were charged with felony counts for each person videotaped, as well as a 15th charge for conspiracy to invade privacy, and a warrant was issued for their arrest.
"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," Mary Alice Carter, Planned Parenthood's interim vice president of communications, said Tuesday. "The California Attorney General filing criminal charges sends a clear message that you cannot target women and you cannot target healthcare providers without consequences. We look forward to justice being served."
The case is one of the biggest for Becerra, who took over as attorney general for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) after she was elected to Congress in 2016.
It follows months of silence after a grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of all wrongdoing in January 2016 and indicted the activists instead, although those charges were separately dropped after prosecutors said the panel had overstepped its authority.
The charges are an ironic twist in the case that prompted a controversial investigation into the healthcare nonprofit during a politically volatile year. The heavily edited footage purported to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue, and reinvigorated the conservative onslaught against the organization, which has long been a target of the right.
Although the videos were debunked, they prompted state and congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood's operations and saw the healthcare group targeted for funding cuts.
Notably, Wednesday is a day of action for supporters to "show their defiance against the relentless attacks on Planned Parenthood."