(Reuters) - Two anti-abortion activists were charged in California with filming Planned Parenthood workers without their consent while the pair posed as representatives of a fake company seeking to buy fetal tissue, prosecutors said.
David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were charged with 15 felonies on Tuesday on suspicion of illegally filming the healthcare workers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties from October 2013 to July 2015, State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
Daleiden said by telephone on Wednesday that he had done nothing wrong because the recordings were not confidential.
“The conversations that we secretly recorded were in open areas and in public areas where people could overhear,” he said. “In fact, they did overhear.”
Daleiden, who runs the California-based nonprofit Center for Medical Progress, said he had not been arrested and that his legal team was working on a response to the charges.
Merritt could be reached for comment.
Daleiden and Merritt created false identities and BioMax Procurement Services, a phony company that purported to be a buyer of fetal tissue, according to the complaint.
They then posed as BioMax representatives at conferences hosted by Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation and other women’s healthcare providers, the complaint said.
While at the meetings, Daleiden and Merritt secretly filmed conversations with health care workers, the complaint said.
Several videos that were released by the Center for Medical Progress in 2015 purported to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue, which is illegal in the United States if done for a profit.
Among them was a video recorded at a Houston-area Planned Parenthood office. In January 2016, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, cleared the local Planned Parenthood affiliate of wrongdoing and indicted Daleiden and Merritt for using fake driver’s licenses to gain access to that facility.
Prosecutors later dismissed the case, however, saying they could not adequately investigate under state law.
Planned Parenthood said Tuesday’s charges against Daleiden and Merritt sent “a clear message.”
“You can’t target women and health care providers without consequences,” the organization said on Twitter.
Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn