(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 briefly at Harris County District Court on the 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 is leader of 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 typically reserved for non-violent offenders in which, if he keeps a clean record for a certain period, charges would be dropped, prosecutors said.
Planned Parenthood denied Daleiden’s allegation 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 cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing and indicted video makers Daleiden and Sandra Merritt.
Daleiden’s lawyers have said the charges are groundless and are seeking to have them thrown out.
“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.
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.