Prosecutors offered to downgrade the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor, said Mat Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal organization representing Merritt in the case. That would mean Merritt would would likely serve only community service rather than a jail sentence if she is found guilty, he said.
However, he said late Wednesday, Merritt had not accepted the offer. “We do not believe she is guilty of anything,” Staver said.
David Daleiden, the main activist behind the videos, plans to turn himself over to authorities Thursday morning, his attorneys have said. He faces an additional misdemeanor charge related to the purchase of human tissue.
The indictments stem from an undercover operation masterminded by Daleiden, who spent nearly three years posing as a worker for a company that provides fetal tissue left over from abortions to researchers for scientific experiments. Using fake IDs and mock websites, Daleiden and several other actors got access to private conferences and inner rooms of Planned Parenthood clinics. The actors attempted to collect proof that Planned Parenthood was selling the fetal tissue. Profiting from the sale of the tissue is illegal under federal law, but clinics may recoup handling and other costs.
Planned Parenthood has emphatically denied wrongdoing, and multiple state investigations into the organization’s tissue donation program have turned up no violations. But the organization apologized for the “tone” of one of the videos, which showed a high-level Planned Parenthood official talking casually and graphically about abortion techniques, and it has stopped accepting any reimbursements for the costs of providing fetal tissue for research.
In a twist, a grand jury in Houston that had been tasked with looking into wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood announced instead last week that it was indicting Daleiden and Merritt. Daleiden has defended his actions, describing himself as an investigative journalist whose alleged act of deceit was driven only by a desire to uncover criminal activity by the women’s health and abortion provider. Wednesday morning, his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, released a newly edited video purporting to show proof that Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast previously overcharged for fetal tissue it provided for research. The new video is a composite of footage that had been previously released by the group.
“I’ve always maintained, and I was very careful during the course of [the Center for Medical Progress’s] investigative journalism work, that we’d follow all applicable laws,” he said in an interview. Asked whether he was prepared to go to jail, he responded, “I’m ready for anything that Planned Parenthood might throw at me.”
Merritt, whose identity until recently had been masked under the false name “Susan Tennenbaum,” has not spoken publicly about the situation.
Planned Parenthood applauded the news that Merritt and Daleiden were turning themselves in. “The wheels of justice have only begun to roll,” Eric Ferrero, vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “These people broke multiple federal laws and violated the law in at least four states, all in order to spread lies about Planned Parenthood. We’re glad they’re being held accountable, and we hope other law enforcement agencies pursue criminal charges as well.”