A Texas grand jury has cleared Planned Parenthood of misconduct after the abortion provider was accused of selling foetal body parts for profit.
Instead, the panel charged the filmmakers behind the accusations with tampering with government records.
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) secretly filmed videos that caused an outcry and prompted efforts to withdraw Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.
CMP founder David Daleiden was also charged with buying human organs.
It is legal to accept reimbursement for the costs of providing tissue, but the videos depicted tissue donation as a marketised area where illegal trafficking in organs was distorting abortion practices – something the grand jury did not accept was happening.
“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Devon Anderson, the prosecutor who is now in charge of the case.
“As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us.”
Planned Parenthood is a non-profit group that provides reproductive health services to mostly lower-income Americans. Some of its clinics perform abortions.
In some videos, Mr Daleiden and members of the Center for Medical Progress pose as medical researchers from a fake company called BioMax, and discuss buying foetal tissue from Planned Parenthood staff.
In one, Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, tells the filmmakers that abortion doctors can adjust their methods to leave organs intact.
“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact,” Ms Nucatola said in the video.
The CMP accused Planned Parenthood of “barbaric” partial-birth abortion procedures to allow it to profit from illegally trafficking organs, but critics said the videos were heavily edited in an effort to discredit Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood has also revealed that it ignored earlier “disturbing” approaches by BioMax offering to pay the “astronomical amount” of $1,600 for foetus organs.
Mr Daleiden and fellow activist Sandra Merritt each face a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. No further details were provided by prosecutors.
Mr Daleiden also faces a misdemeanour count related to purchasing human organs.
In a statement, he defended the actions of the CMP, saying it “uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades”.
Planned Parenthood said it charged small fees to process the foetal tissue donations and did not profit from the exchanges. The group stopped charging the processing fees when the video controversy erupted.
Republican members of Congress pointed to the videos as they sought to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Democrats have stopped those efforts and President Barack Obama has promised to veto any bill that stripped the healthcare provider of funding.
Eleven states, including Texas, launched investigations after the release of the videos. Nine have determined Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong. The inquiries have yet to finish in Arizona and Louisiana.