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Attorney General: Fetal tissue transfers for research legal

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The transfer of fetal tissue from an Albuquerque abortion clinic for research at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center violated no state law, according to a letter from New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office to a congressional committee.

The AG’s letter dated Thursday comes more than a year after the now-disbanded Select Investigative Panel of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent criminal referrals to Balderas’ office alleging potential criminal violations in the collaboration between university researchers and Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque.

The special committee, which ended its work a year ago, was created to investigate Planned Parenthood and the procurement of fetal tissue for research.

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But Balderas’ office found no criminal violations of either of the two state laws cited by the committee in referrals issued in 2016.

A civil review also undertaken by the AG’s office “also found insufficient evidence to find a violation of either act.”

Southwestern Women’s Options has been targeted over the years by anti-abortion advocates, because it is one of the few clinics nationwide that performs third trimester abortions.

The committee, joined by a local anti-abortion group Abortion Free New Mexico, alleged that Southwestern Women’s Options’ donation of fetal tissue from induced abortions for medical research at UNMHSC was unlawful and constituted violations of the state’s Spradling Act, which makes it a felony for a person to purchase or sell an organ or tissue for “valuable consideration.”

But the AG, according to its letter, found no evidence to suggest “quid pro quo exchanges for fetal tissue. Indeed, there is no evidence that any of the donated fetal tissue was used for any purpose other than research and education.”

Moreover, the Spradling Act, which clarifies procedures surrounding organ donation, exempts fetuses that are the subject of an induced abortion, the AG found.

“While both SWWO and the UNM Health Sciences Center may have benefited in a variety of ways as a result of broad collaboration, such relationships between healthcare providers and research institutions appear to be common in the medical field,” the letter states.

Both the congressional committee and Tara Shaver of Abortion Free New Mexico also claimed criminal violations of the New Mexico Maternal, Fetal and Infant Experimentation Act.

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But the AG found that law “was never intended to regulate fetal tissue resulting from an induced abortion.”

In its final report in December 2016, the select committee reported that a tissue technician employed by

UNM traveled to Southwest Women’s Options to “procure” human fetal organs or tissue an average of 39 times a year since 2010.

In December 2016, the Republican-led select panel also asked the U.S. Justice Department to open inquiries into Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, including Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque.

Relevant FBI field offices received information from the panel, including the criminal referrals made to Balderas’ office. The status of that FBI review in New Mexico wasn’t clear Thursday.

“There will never be justice in New Mexico until leaders, lawmakers and law enforcers stop propping up a failing abortion industry whose grisly trade negatively effects the most vulnerable of our communities,” Shaver of Abortion Free New Mexico said in a written statement.

Pro-life advocates questioned why Balderas issued his letter a year after the House committee disbanded.

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