A judge dismissed Tuesday the last of the charges against two anti-abortion activists who covertly recorded a video of themselves meeting with Planned Parenthood officials, effectively ending a case that had drawn national attention from both opponents and supporters of abortion rights.
The activists, David R. Daleiden, 27, and Sandra S. Merritt, 63, were indicted in January by a grand jury here in Harris County on charges of tampering with government records for using fake identification and offering to buy fetal tissue at a meeting at which Planned Parenthood officials explained how they provided the tissue to medical researchers. Their video, one of several widely circulated on the internet, said Planned Parenthood was guilty of selling fetal remains, accusations Planned Parenthood has denied.
After the videos surfaced last year, Dan Patrick, the Texas lieutenant governor, a Republican, asked the Republican district attorney in Harris County to open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood in August. A grand jury ended up indicting. Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, and taking no action against Planned Parenthood.
At a hearing in the case on Tuesday, prosecutors with the Harris County district attorney’s office asked the judge to dismiss the charges, citing a potential legal issue with the grand jury’s term, which had been extended during the investigation. Mr. Daleiden’s lawyers had argued that the grand jury did not have the authority to indict Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt during the extension, and prosecutors appeared to have agreed.
“The grand jury took the investigation where the facts led it; however, Texas law limits what can be investigated after a grand jury extension order is issued,” District Attorney Devon Anderson said in a statement. “In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments.”
One of Mr. Daleiden’s lawyers, Jared Woodfill, said prosecutors could not bring a new target of investigation before grand jurors during an extension period.
“The evidence that we had was very clear that David was never a target of an investigation during the original term, and so the indictment was fatally flawed,” Mr. Woodfill said.
The investigation had been politically fraught from its beginnings as an examination of Planned Parenthood. Abortion-rights supporters asserted that Ms. Anderson had a conflict of interest, citing a 2014 Facebook posting in which she announced an endorsement from an anti-abortion group and called herself “a proud, pro-life Texan.” Then when the case turned to center on Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, abortion opponents cast the charges as politically motivated, citing a prosecutor’s ties to Planned Parenthood.
Last year, after Ms. Anderson announced that she was opening an investigation, an assistant district attorney in her office disclosed that she was a member of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s board of directors. Ms. Anderson announced that disclosure publicly, and said the prosecutor would not be involved in the investigation. Ms. Anderson said she would consider having an independent prosecutor take over the case if information surfaced suggesting the investigation had been compromised.
That did little to satisfy critics. “The indictment was politically motivated and should never have been filed in the first place,” said Mathew D. Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative nonprofit that represented Ms. Merritt.
Prosecutors appeared unlikely to pursue the case. But separately, Planned Parenthood has sued Mr. Daleiden, Ms. Merritt and others in federal court in San Francisco over the videos. Officials in Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Georgia and nine other states investigated the claims made in the videos that Planned Parenthood had profited illegally from sales of fetal tissue, and cleared the group of any wrongdoing. Officials in eight other states, including California and Colorado, declined to investigate, according to Planned Parenthood.
“They spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their anti-abortion agenda,” Melaney A. Linton, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement. “The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud.”
The indictment stemmed from a meeting Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt had at the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast offices in Houston in April 2015. They had been each indicted on felony charges of tamperingwith a governmental record with the intent to defraud, for using fake identity documents; Mr. Daleiden had faced an additional misdemeanor charge related to offering to purchase human organs. The misdemeanor charge was dropped by a judge several weeks ago.
, abortion law