The two-week preliminary criminal hearing began yesterday in the San Francisco Superior Court as Sandra Merritt defends against 15 felony charges brought against her by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Liberty Counsel is defending Merritt for her undercover journalism work which exposed Planned Parenthood’s trade in baby body parts.

Merritt and Merritt’s co-defendant, David Daleiden, the founder of the Center for Medical Progress, are the first undercover journalists to be criminally prosecuted in the history of the state. Liberty Counsel has shown that, to date, no other citizen journalist or journalism organization has ever been charged with a crime for undercover recordings made in the public interest.

Judge Christopher Hite of the Superior Court is presiding over the preliminary hearing and decreed that the names of the abortion providers who testify will be sealed during the prosecution.

The undercover videos, most of which were recorded at the National Abortion Federation’s (NAF) 2014 and 2015 abortion convention and trade shows, exposed Planned Parenthood’s illegal involvement in harvesting and selling aborted baby body parts to companies such as StemExpress. The recordings capture Planned Parenthood executives haggling over the prices of baby body parts, picking through bloodied arms and legs of aborted babies in a pie tray, and discussing how to alter abortion methods to obtain better body parts for sale. 

Yesterday’s hearing began with a retired late-term abortionist describing the unborn baby as a “tough little object” in an undercover video shown in court. The abortionist, referred to in court as “Doe 3,” also admitted in the video recorded at the 2014 NAF abortion trade show that she routinely “didged,” or killed the baby in utero with digoxin, because that gave her and the mother more “peace of mind.” She said it also prevented the “delivery of a live fetus,” which is “the biggest disaster and it never goes away.”

During the hearing, Liberty Counsel Vice President of Legal Affairs and Chief Litigation Counsel Horatio Mihet questioned “Doe 7,” a nurse practitioner who performed surgical abortions for Planned Parenthood Northern California and testified that she regularly provided fetal tissue from the abortions. When Mihet asked “Doe 7” about a recorded conversation at the 2014 NAF trade show, she admitted that several people she did not know came within hearing distance of the conversation, but she made no attempt to lower her voice or take any precautions to ensure she was not overheard. “Doe 7” also never stated at the trade show that she did not want to be recorded or that the information was confidential. However, she insisted yesterday that because attendees at the NAF trade show signed a confidentiality agreement, she thought everything spoken there was confidential. However, Mihet stated, “That doesn’t matter under the law.”

The AG’s primary witness, Melissa Fowler, VP of External Affairs for NAF, admitted she had no responsibility for NAF security or trade show management since she started with NAF in 2006 and that exhibitor rules and regulations did not prohibit video recording at the time the undercover videos were filmed. Fowler refused to acknowledge video recording was never mentioned in the rules and regulations presented to exhibitors at the time of application. Fowler also denied any knowledge of a fetal tissue procurement organization, even though she recognized StemExpress as a repeat NAF vendor.

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This preliminary hearing will continue to confirm this is a biased political attack on Sandra Merritt’s First Amendment rights as a journalist. Sandra has revealed the horrible truth that Planned Parenthood profits from the blood of innocent children and the abortion organization is fighting to avoid any accountability for its heinous crimes against women and children,” said Staver.