Here's a lesson from Houston, Texas: When a straight-shooting prosecutor promises her investigation will go where the evidence leads, better assume she actually means it — that she won't be swayed by party politics — and woe to those who have violated the law.
On Monday, a Harris County grand jury indicted David Daleiden, 27, director of the Center for Medical Progress and one of his employees, Sandra Merritt, 62, on charges stemming from a questionable "sting" operation aimed at Planned Parenthood. The perpetrators' goal was to secretly tape Planned Parenthood officials implicating themselves in the illegal sale of fetal tissues, but instead, it got them indicted on a felony charge for tampering with government records with the intent to defraud — as well as a lesser charge involving the purchase of human organs.
In prosecutorial circles, this is known as "poetic justice." That it has taken place in a Red State and by a Republican district attorney, Devon Anderson, assigned to the task by a Republican lieutenant governor who is strongly against abortion rights, makes it all the more telling. From Day One, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expected to announce charges against Planned Parenthood; instead, he issued a statement promising that he will "never be deterred from standing up to fight to protect the unborn" after it was announced the grand jury's two-month-long investigation had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.
He should not have been surprised. Every investigation of the videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress has so far concluded that Planned Parenthood did not break the law. What Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt did, however, was apparently to create and use fake California driver's licenses, which is absolutely wrong. It's wrong under the law, and it's wrong under the ethical standards of investigative journalism, which the perpetrators claim their actions represent.
Here are the facts: It is perfectly legal to donate fetal tissue to research under a 1993 federal law, which also makes it perfectly legal to collect a "reasonable" fee. Researchers have used fetal tissue for medical studies for 80 years, most recently in the quest to find cures for AIDS, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease. As for the fee, the law does not specify what is "reasonable." Nothing the perpetrators have captured on video represents the "sale" of "baby parts" at all.
Yet the whole episode prompted politically-minded elected officials in at least a dozen states to mount their own witch hunts against local Planned Parenthood chapters. The attacks have been shameful, a subterfuge to advance their true ambitions — to restrict every woman's right to choose. And the attacks on Planned Parenthood funding have been particularly disgraceful as they might have compromised the organization's core purpose, providing reproductive and contraceptive services to women regardless of income, race ethnicity or sexual orientation. Ultimately, denying the funding would likely have increased the market for abortion rather than reduced it.
From the start, we have condemned this misleading and illicit campaign against Planned Parenthood — as have many others who believe in a woman's right to reproductive self-determination. But we can't deny it is a far more powerful statement when a prosecutor with no particular allegiance to Planned Parenthood — and, in fact, assigned the task of investigating the group by an anti-abortion leader — comes down squarely on the side of Planned Parenthood after a thorough and independent review of all the relevant material.
Will the indictments put an end to the lies? Somehow, we doubt it. The crusade against abortion rights has found too much traction in conservative states to be derailed by the truth. In recent years, anti-abortion forces have succeeded in applying all kinds of red tape to the procedure, from unnecessarily elaborate physician and hospital standards to mandatory counseling and waiting periods.
If the Republican candidates for president wish to continue to pursue this war on women, they'll have to find another straw dog — and that includes Carly Fiorinia who, even after the indictments were released, told CNN that she knows Planned Parenthood "has been trafficking in body parts." That's a lie and she knows it. But in this topsy-turvy political year, the only remaining question is whether reality — whether it involves Planned Parenthood and the use of fetal tissue or climate change — matters to GOP primary voters at all.