Last Monday, a grand jury indicted David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt, a center employee, on felony charges of tampering with government documents and a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs. The charges stem from the investigation surrounding the controversial Planned Parenthood videos that surfaced last summer.
Marjorie Dannensfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said the videos "caused a watershed moment that we weren't expecting." They also helped set the stage for the latest battle in a decades-long attempt to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds.
According to Daleiden, the goal of the videos was to prove that Planned Parenthood actively sold fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood, the non-profit reproductive health organization, immediately pushed back against the videos following their release. The organization questioned the legality of the tactics used to obtain the videos, which led to a massive lawsuit against Daleiden's organization.
The videos became a hot-button issue and talking points for many GOP primary candidates—some of whom turned to Facebook and Twitter to vent their frustrations with Planned Parenthood. Even Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, called the pictures from the videos "disturbing," although some of the images were later found to be deceptive [see below].
To help sort through the timeline of the controversy surrounding the videos here's a reading guide:
- "The Planned Parenthood Controversy Over Aborted Fetus Body Parts, Explained," Vox, August 2015
This explainer tackles the overall issues of—and immediate reactions to—the Planned Parenthood videos, and introduces "the deeper question" of whether or not it's ethical to use aborted fetuses for research.
- "Election Class of 2016: David Daleiden Is Revolutionizing Anti-Abortion Activism," VICE News, October 2015
Here's a profile of David Daleiden, the recently indicted founder of the Center for Medical Progress who ignited the firestorm around Planned Parenthood after releasing the videos in July 2015.
- "Assault on Planned Parenthood Was Years in the Making," the Hill, August 2015
According to Daleiden, the release of the videos had been in the works for more than two years, and the weekly release of the videos was no mere coincidence. In fact, according to some anti-abortion activists, the spacing out of the videos was beneficial to their sustained impact.
- "Republicans Alter Script on Abortion, Seeking to Shift Debate," the New York Times, July 2015
The release of the videos signaled a shift in how Republicans frame the abortion debate. It turned from "war on women" methods that "put Democrats on the defensive," according to this New York Times article.
- "Planned Parenthood Videos Were Altered, Analysis Finds," the New York Times, August 2015
An independent analysis of the videos commissioned by Planned Parenthood found that the videos were altered. The recordings in Houston and Denver, for example, were missing at least 30 minutes of footage each, according to video forensics expert Grant Fredericks. Daleiden's group explained the lapsed time as "bathroom breaks and waiting periods."
- "The Real Story Behind Those Planned Parenthood Videos," CNN, October 2015
A CNN investigation found that the widely circulated photo from the video was actually of a stillborn birth, not an abortion. And, according to this CNN article, the video cited by Carly Fiorina in a GOP debate "came from an outside source, an anti-abortion group called the Center For Bioethical Reform and [Daleiden] doesn't know its origin beyond that."
- "The Long GOP Fight to Defund Planned Parenthood," the Atlantic, August 2015
While the fight to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding has been ongoing for years, the debate over fetal tissue research was long thought to be settled. In 1992, bipartisan legislation that canceled a funding ban on the practice, in hopes of finding cures to "devastating diseases" passed.
- "Abortion Foes Aim to Grow 'Army' of Planned Parenthood Spies," RH Reality Check, January 2016
"The trouble has only just begun for you," said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. Anti-abortion activists say that the Planned Parenthood videos are not the end but a new beginning in training "intelligence operatives" to infiltrate Planned Parenthood.
- "The Charges Against Anti-Planned Parenthood Filmmaker, Explained," the Washington Post, January 2016
Here is a good primer on the charges that Daleiden and Merritt face, including tampering with a governmental record and attempting to buy human tissue.