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Last month, a group of legislators called on Governor Gary Herbert to start channeling taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood again. The governor had stopped such funding in the wake of video disclosures of Planned Parenthood executives speaking in callous and chilling ways about organs removed from aborted children for medical research purposes.

The handful of legislators asking for renewed funding seized on a recent decision by a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, not to indict Planned Parenthood on charges of trafficking in human organs. To his credit, the governor is standing by his original decision.

He is right to do so because the argument of his critics is seriously mistaken.

In calling for renewed funding, one of the legislators said: “Texas has now cleared the organization and charged the video creators. This is a clear message that the contracts and services Planned Parenthood provides are legal and supportive to men and women in our communities across the state.”

The first part of this statement is simply factually inaccurate. The decision was made not by the state of Texas, but by a local grand jury. In fact, Texas’ governor made clear on Jan. 25 that the Texas Health and Human Service Commission’s Inspector General and the Texas Attorney General “have an ongoing investigation into Planned Parenthood’s actions.”

The idea that a failure of a local body to indict “clears” Planned Parenthood is also deeply mistaken in legal terms. The most serious allegation of criminal wrongdoing is probably a violation of federal law that would not be enforced by a municipal government. As Gov. Herbert noted, the investigation on this question is ongoing as well.

The crux of the dispute on this point is whether Planned Parenthood merely received money to cover costs associating with getting fetal body parts taken from aborted children or whether, as a Planned Parenthood doctor says in the videos, they were doing “a little better” than just breaking even on the transactions. There is reasonably compelling evidence that Planned Parenthood has profited from the sale of body parts from aborted children. A failure to indict in a Texas county is not exoneration of a federal crime.

As an editorial in National Review points out, there is also the possibility that decisions to indict and not indict can be motivated by non-legal considerations and this appears to have happened in Texas in some recent instances. So, Governor Herbert can hardly be faulted for thinking that the recent grand jury decision does not settle all legal concerns about Planned Parenthood’s behavior.

The statement in support of providing Utah taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood also provides a potentially misleading picture of what the grand jury actually did. The grand jury did indict the video maker for tampering with a government document, which, because it involved another state, was a felony in Texas. This, however, has no bearing on the veracity on the evidence collected in the investigative reporting effort, only the means of doing it. The fact that the videos were made for purpose of exposing bad behavior should certainly bear on the question of whether those charged with crimes had the criminal intent necessary to sustain a conviction.

Finally – and this point bears repeating more and more as we seem to be losing sight of it – moral and legal are not the same thing. Perhaps, because of some legal loophole, or difficulty in convincing public officials, or for political reasons, or just because the law hasn’t yet caught up to all the mischief that can be done, there will be no legal conviction of Planned Parenthood for the conduct displayed in the videos captured by the Center for Medical Progress.

Whatever happens in the courts, there is no dispute that Planned Parenthood supplies body parts of unborn children who have been aborted, for medical research. Can we really, as a society, have come to believe that this is “supportive to men and women in our communities across the state”? Do morally repugnant actions become licit because they have a purported scientific motive? Surely, we do not believe that.

Gov. Herbert is right to distance the state from such practices.


William C. Duncan, J.D., is director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society.