Planned Parenthood: a case of an indicted messenger

Could you bear to watch the horrible video seeming to show Planned Parenthood evilly selling baby parts? You could have saved yourself the angst, it turns out.

From the NY Times:

HOUSTON — A grand jury here that was investigating accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two abortion opponents who made undercover videos of the organization.

Prosecutors in Harris County said one of the leaders of the Center for Medical Progress — an anti-abortion group that made secretly recorded videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue — had been indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, a felony, and on a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs….
On Monday, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said in a statement that grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

We’re talking a texas grand jury!
Sometimes really good things happen in Houston.

4 thoughts on “Planned Parenthood: a case of an indicted messenger

  1. While I have no sympathy at all with the people who made the doctored video (the opposite, in fact), and while it seems, as best I can tell, that the grand jury properly applied the Texas laws in question, it does seem to me that the laws are themselves pretty bad ones, so we should have at most very limited happiness about the outcome here, if that.

    As far as I understand, there were two laws at issue. The first made it a misdemeanor to even offer to buy fetal tissue. In general, I think that making mere speech or enquiries crimes is a bad idea, open for lots of abuse. We shouldn’t put much trust in our ability to only do this for the “right sort” of crimes.

    The second crime was using a fake idea, where this is elevated to a felony when done with the intent to harm someone. The definition of harm seems to be a broad one. My worry here is that this law, as written, and as applied here, would seem to apply to quite a lot of activity that I don’t think should be criminal at all. (Suppose I want to expose abuse in a slaughter house, and I use a fake ID to get in. I take pictures which I intend to publish. The pictures are accurate, but if I publish them, the slaughter house will be subject to criticism and loose business. It would seem that, under this law, I would have committed a felony, but it’s quite unclear to me that this should be the outcome.)

    In summary, while the actions of the people in question were despicable, I don’t think that we should be happy about this _particular_ outcome, as it’s a bad then when bad laws are applied, even correctly and to bad people.

  2. Matt, I think I agree with the spirit but not the letter of your comment. There’s a long history of the government using small infractions to jail serious criminals. It is, in the present case, a small infraction to devise a fake driver’s license, but the damage done by the perps to poor women wanting health care is very, very serious. Planned Parenthood is the only source of important healthcare for many, many poor women, and the misleading films were used to justify drastic restrictions on access to that healthcare. So if we can stop that, I’m pretty happy, even if it means making a big deal out of a small infraction. There’s more to say, here, of course, but the way the law works contains many instances when what violations get punished seems to be left up to various people in the system.

    Even if the law was unjust – and I don’t think forbidding fake driver’s licenses is unjust, though the maximum penalty seems extreme – I don’t think that means we can’t be happy if evil is avoided by using it. Clearly, we can’t exactly congratulate ourselves or the state on the means, I think, but that’s a different matter. I’m not happy about the way it was done, but I am very happy that really bad actors were stopped.

  3. Thanks, Anne. (Let me apologize for the large number of typos in my comment [“idea” rather than ID(!?!); “loose” rather than “lose”; “then” rather than “thing”; maybe others.] Even by my own pretty low standards, that’s pretty bad.)

    I agree that these people did something pretty bad. I have nothing but antipathy towards them. But in the case of the law, I think it’s really important that we’d be glad to have it applied to people whose cause we agree with as well as people who do really very bad stuff, as done here. I’m not happy to have bad laws applied even to bad people, and that even when, in some sense, these people “deserve” to have something bad happen to them.

    (I agree, of course, that there is a long history of using small infractions to send people to jail. But, because those laws can be used for ill, and often are, we should not want to see them used at all, unless they can be justified on neutral terms. “Cosmic justice as fairness” is a fun sounding idea, but a pretty bad theory for accepting laws, I think.)

    (I might also add that my knowledge of this case is drawn from journalistic accounts. They may not be fully accurate. I’m a lawyers, among other things, (one reason why I don’t like bad laws, even when applied to bad people!) but I don’t have any especially deep legal insight to this case or special knowledge.)

  4. Matt, as an ex-journalist I should come to their defense. Journalists are required to report what they are told by credible people even when they know they are hearing a big fat lie. And in my experience, lawyers have sometimes been the best liars, and of course with their credibility, they tend to be believed. Investigative journalists frequently skate past fully legal practice in order to get their stories and for the most part are prepared to take their punishment (obviously they hope they won’t have to and will dodge and weave with the best lawyers to help them–see the News of the World scandals in London a few years ago) I’m not convinced either that what you are designating as “bad law,” really is. I find these people to be scurrilous and am glad that the Grand Jury–using its investigative role as it may not often do–had some remedies at hand.

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