On April 19 an event took place on the University of New Mexico campus that is evidence the Washington “swamp” is still infested with alligators. Reps. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., strayed from their districts for a dog-and-pony show on the UNM campus billed as a “press conference.” There were multiple speakers generally expressing opposition to abortion and the transfer of fetal tissue to the UNM Health Sciences Center for research purposes.
The speakers accused Southwestern Women’s Options of not properly obtaining consent for transfer of fetal tissue resulting from pregnancy terminations at that facility and UNM of complicity in a profit-making enterprise. For the record, that facility’s consent form states, in plain English, “I fully understand that tissue and parts will be removed during the procedure, and I consent to their examination and their use in medical research and their disposal by the clinic and/or physician in the manner they deem appropriate.”
Most egregious were the baseless remarks by notoriously intemperate Father Stephen Imbarrato, who accused UNM Health Sciences Center Chancellor Paul Roth of being “… the driving force behind the entire abortion cartel in the state of New Mexico” – a slanderous and undeserved canard against an HSC leader I have consistently found to be an honorable, ethical and honest administrator. By many accounts, Imbarrato and his excesses are an embarrassment even to his own supervisors. Shamefully, his diatribe went unchallenged in following remarks by Pearce and Blackburn.
Regardless of your views on abortion and fetal tissue research, I write to take issue with the disrespect for academic inquiry represented by this event. What was obvious from the outset was that this “press conference” was orchestrated primarily to gain media attention for Pearce and Blackburn, and that the underlying issues were secondary. It is clear both representatives are contemplating campaigns for higher office; Blackburn seizes on any opportunity to be mentioned on local and national media, and Pearce clearly intends to run for governor and covets media attention in any part of New Mexico north of his district. That this “press conference” was a sham was made abundantly clear at its conclusion, when by my count only two members of the press were allowed to ask questions, no members of the public were given that privilege, and Pearce and Blackburn hastily fled from the event.
UNM, and in fact any institution of higher learning, has as one of its core missions an openness to the expression of opinions that may or may not challenge the prevailing beliefs of the students, faculty or staff. In the spirit of academic inquiry, an event wherein potentially controversial opinions are espoused must be followed by an opportunity for public discourse with the speaker(s). UNM has demonstrated its commitment to this ideal on many occasions, most recently by the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos. … followed by an extended question-and-answer period that represented a true exemplar of the concept of academic freedom of inquiry. Would that Pearce, Blackburn and their entourage had … stayed for a free exchange of ideas during their stage-managed appearance at UNM.
The opinions expressed are Brown’s own and have not been officially endorsed by UNM.