Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Wednesday her office has begun a criminal investigation into the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood after the release earlier this week of a video showing an agency executive discussing the preservation of organs of aborted fetuses.
Anderson, who described the video as being “disturbing,” said she has reviewed it, as have prosecutors and investigators in her office.
The video was the fifth to be released by the California-based Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group whose activists in April secretly recorded Melissa Farrell with the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. She discusses how to preserve aborted fetuses for research purposes as well as the different types, methods and costs of fetal tissue harvesting. The videos are part of the group’s campaign to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue to scientists.
Anderson said the first step in the investigation process is to obtain the complete, unedited video to make sure they know the context of all of Farrell’s statements. She said an investigation is “warranted at this time,” but added it is “premature” to say what crimes, if any, the branch has committed.
‘Struck a deep nerve’
“We won’t know until our investigation is complete,” Anderson said. “So for that reason I will not speculate on which laws have been violated or any possible resulting sentences. Our investigation could reveal state as well as federal law violations, or no violations at all.”
According to Anderson, the Texas Rangers and the Houston Police Department have agreed to join the investigating team. A ranger in her office might be the one joining the investigation, but it is up to the state agency to decide. She also speculated that HPD will send a detective from their homicide division, but Houston police will select who comes over.
“I’m anticipating right now … putting two very senior prosecutors on this,” Anderson said. “One has already conducted this type of investigation before, and she is familiar with the laws regarding abortion in Texas.”
In Austin, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt said Anderson’s decision to open an investigation into the branch is “the right thing to do.”
“These videos have struck a deep nerve with the American public, and the truth must be known about this horrific practice if it is occurring in Houston,” said Bettencourt, a Republican.
Selling vs. donating
Planned Parenthood opponents say the videos are evidence that the organization was illegally selling fetal tissue for profit. Under a 1993 law, selling fetal tissue is illegal, but a woman can consent to donating fetal tissue after having an abortion. The group donating the tissue cannot profit, but can receive “reasonable” compensation for the costs associated with its transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control or storage.
Melaney A. Linton, president and CEO of the Gulf Coast branch, has said the video has “at least 20 substantial and unexplained edits” and labeled the California organization an “extremist group” which has released the videos with an intention to “shock and deceive the public.” She said the footage does not show Planned Parenthood staff “engaged in any wrongdoing” or “agreeing to violate any legal or medical standards.”
“Instead, the latest tape shows an extremely offensive intrusion and lack of respect for women, with footage of medical tissue in a lab,” Linton said.
Anderson announced the investigation hours after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement earlier Wednesday calling for it. Gov. Greg Abbott also has called for an investigation, after the first of the videos was released. Anderson said her office does not want to “reduplicate any efforts.”
“We’re going to concentrate, obviously, on where we have jurisidiction, which is Harris County,” she said. “We, again, will consult with them, but we’re going to conduct our own investigation.”