Eight months after similar charges against them were dropped in Texas, pro-life activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress were charged in California Tuesday with 15 felony counts of invasion of privacy for recording undercover videos targeting abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
"Daleiden, along with co-conspirator Sandra Merritt, used manufactured identities and a fictitious bioresearch company to meet women's healthcare providers and covertly record the private discussions they initiated," a statement from California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday.
"The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California's Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society," Becerra said in announcing the charges. "We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations."
Daleiden and Merritt are charged with filming 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person. The 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy prosecutors say.
The recordings included conversations with officials from Planned Parenthood and StemExpress, a California company that provides blood, tissue and other biological material for medical research and had received fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.
Daleiden posed as "Robert Sarkis" of the phony Biomax Procurement Services in one of the recordings and is shown discussing liver tissue with the chief executive of StemExpress at a Northern California restaurant.
Anti-abortionists alleged that the videos show Planned Parenthood was illegally harvesting and selling the organs but Planned Parenthood denied the allegation as deceptively edited propaganda.
Reacting to the charges against Daleiden and Merritt Tuesday, Mary Alice Carter, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's interim vice president of communications, maintained that they did nothing illegal.
"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. The California Attorney General filing criminal charges sends a clear message that you cannot target women and you cannot target health care providers without consequences. We look forward to justice being served," she said in a statement.
Daleiden hit back in a Tuesday statement, insisting that the charges are "bogus" and politically motivated.
"The bogus charges from Planned Parenthood's political cronies are fake news. They tried the same collusion with corrupt officials in Houston, TX and failed: both the charges and the DA were thrown out. The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress and DV Biologics—currently being prosecuted in California—who have harvested and sold aborted baby body parts for profit for years in direct violation of state and federal law," he said in a statement.
"We look forward to showing the entire world what is on our yet-unreleased video tapes of Planned Parenthood's criminal baby body parts enterprise, in vindication of the First Amendment rights of all," he added.