Friday, January 29, 2016

Republican DA showed courage in Planned Parenthood case

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson displayed political courage this week in delivering the news that a grand jury had cleared Planned Parenthood of any criminal activity.

Instead, she announced, the panel had indicted two anti-abortion activists who had secretly filmed Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research.

Such sales are legal if the compensation covers only expenses related to saving and transporting the tissue.

But the activists argued that the videos proved that Planned Parenthood was profiteering off the sale of body parts of unborn children.

Scores of politicians announced as fact that the videos showed just that.

The grand jury disagreed.

Instead it indicted the two activists for the felony of using false government documents — phony California drivers licenses — with the intent to defraud.

The leader was also indicted for the misdemeanor of allegedly attempting to buy human organs at a price that clearly would have been profiteering.

The Houston branch of Planned Parenthood didn’t bite.

The fact that the grand jury did this is a powerful indication that DA Anderson did not play politics.

I’ve been on a grand jury.

The prosecutor has almost total control over the information you receive.

To use an old metaphor, if they tell you the ham is rotten and the bread moldy, you indict the ham sandwich.

Anderson, a Republican appointed to the post by Gov. Rick Perry in 2013 to replace her deceased husband, played this one straight.

She told the Houston Chronicle she abhors abortions and those who perform them, but “the inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn’t always lead where you want to go.”

Her profile in courage doesn’t have sharp edges.

In the short run the indictments may help her.

If they had come before last month’s filing deadline, she almost certainly would have drawn a Republican primary opponent.

Instead, the indictments may help her in November.

Harris County tends to lean Democrat in high-turnout presidential elections.

But conservative Republicans have long memories, and this case may still be in the news with our glacial appeal process.

Its political nature was emphasized by the fact that former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill reportedly will serve as the pair’s defense lawyer.

So Anderson did show courage.

I wish I could say the same for a majority of San Antonio’s City Council.

One of the necessary niceties of City Hall politics is they rarely are inflamed by ideology.

That’s not to say there is no passion. People can get worked up over closing streets, over gentrification, over water issues.

City politics are, of necessity, focused on nuts and bolts issues, city building and economic development.

It was a strain when City Hall took on the issue of non-discrimination against sexual minorities, but that issue has died down.

The problem with abortion as a political issue is that both sides are based on absolutes.

One side holds that abortion is murder.

The other side holds that women should have control over their bodies.

The Supreme Court attempted a compromise with Roe v. Wade.

How is that going?

Absolutes are poisonous to politics, which requires compromise.

So when anti-abortion activists sought to require a new zoning hurdle for abortion clinics, four San Antonio council members had the good civic sense to try to keep abortion politics out of City Hall.

Mayor Ivy Taylor and six colleagues tried to walk a “middle ground,” requiring all ambulatory surgical centers — which the Legislature required abortion clinics to be — to go through an extra zoning hoop.

The result: Anti-abortion activists have targeted the four.

Councilman Ron Nirenberg was uninvited from speaking to the Christian Business Chamber of Commerce — on the city’s long-term planning process.

This is just the beginning.

Having tasted success, anti-abortion activists will look for other ways of bringing their intractable issue to City Hall — inflaming the civic culture without furthering their cause.

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