More than 300 abortion opponents held rallies Tuesday in New Mexico demanding the government investigate whether Planned Parenthood is illegally selling aborted fetal tissue, and that it defund the national organization.
The protests, at the state Capitol in Santa Fe and at Planned Parenthood clinics in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, were a spinoff of the recent national furor over secretly recorded videos posted to YouTube, showing organization officials talking about providing fetal tissue and organs for research in exchange for payment.
Anti-abortion groups have seized on the videos as evidence of what one rally speaker called the “scandal of selling baby organs.”
Planned Parenthood insists it does not sell fetal tissue for profit, which would be illegal, and only charges a fee to recover clinic costs associated with collecting, processing, storage and transportation of tissue, which is legal.
“We are rallying here and all over the country to protest Planned Parenthood’s killing of pre-born babies and then selling baby organs for profit,” said the Rev. Stephen Imbarrato of Priests for Life, speaking to about 50 people outside the Capitol. He said Planned Parenthood clinics should be closed permanently.
Lalita Russ, a field organizing specialist for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, said that of the organization’s six health centers in New Mexico, only two provide abortions and that neither of those collects fetal tissue or organs for medical research. In fact, tissue samples are collected at Planned Parenthood clinics in fewer than half a dozen states, determined by geographic and logistical limitations and staffing needs, she said.
Russ also noted that the highly controversial videos have been scrutinized by Planned Parenthood as well as a number of news sources, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Gawker and FactCheck.org – which have said the recordings were heavily edited and don’t show any clear-cut evidence of wrongdoing.
The rally in Albuquerque outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on San Mateo NE drew about 275 people and was organized by the group Students for Life, at the University of New Mexico.
Sade Patterson, president of Students for Life, said, “We already knew Planned Parenthood was doing abortions daily, but the videos show the sale of body parts, and the practice of partial birth abortions, both of which are illegal.”
Imbarrato said protests at Planned Parenthood clinics would continue, including today at the Albuquerque site, at which he planned to say “prayers of exorcism … to cast out the evil spirits that we know hover” over all abortion clinics.
Imbarrato also praised politicians who have weighed in on the issue, including Republican Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who requested a federal investigation in a Facebook posting last week.
Imbarrato said he had not heard from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, and was concerned that “silence in the face of scandals like this surely appears to be condoning these practices.”
Martinez’s office later put out a statement reiterating that the governor “is pro-life.”
She “has followed this issue very closely, and she is appalled by the practices alleged in the recent videos. She supports Congress investigating this issue,” spokesman Michael Lonergan said.
Tara Shaver of Protest ABQ told the Santa Fe crowd she filed a complaint with Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office last week asking it to investigate whether Southwestern Women’s Options in Albuquerque is violating state law.
Shaver submitted copies of consent forms for abortions at the clinic from 2012 and 2015 that include the patient’s consent to use pregnancy tissue for medical research. She contends that violates a provision of state law that appears to preclude fetuses from induced abortions from being donated for medical research.
The clinic did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint. Balderas’ office, as a matter of policy, does not confirm or deny whether investigations are ongoing.
The Albuquerque protesters blocked Marquette Avenue, listening to speakers and holding signs that declared: “Planned Parenthood Betrays Women,” “Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts,” “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” and “Defund Planned Parenthood.”
Patterson said about half a billion dollars of taxpayer money goes toward Planned Parenthood yearly. “Let’s turn our support to the 8,000 other federally funded health services and community health centers that offer things other than abortions.”
According to Planned Parenthood’s most recent annual report, its yearly budget is $1.3 billion, of which $528 million comes from the federal government and includes some money from states. Federal money may not be used to fund abortions.
Elisa Martinez, executive director of the New Mexico Alliance for Life, called Planned Parenthood “our nation’s abortion Goliath,” and said abortion is a “business transaction and not an act of compassion.”
Another speaker, Laura Rosecrans, founder and director of Surrendered Hearts Abortion Recovery Ministries of New Mexico, called abortion “exploitation at its worst,” and claimed that more than 94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services to women nationwide are actually abortions.
Not so, Russ said. Only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s health services are abortions. The organization “has been America’s most trusted provider of women’s health services for nearly a century,” she said. “We provide a full range of health care services to millions of women, men, and young people every year, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing and treatment, and abortion.”
A small but vocal group of Planned Parenthood supporters stood in the San Mateo median directly across from the much larger assemblage. Amanda Gonzales, 24, held a sign proclaiming: “I’ll Do What I Want With My Body.”
“These protests have been sparked by something (videos) that has been taken completely out of context and puts Planned Parenthood in a completely negative light, and which isn’t true,” she said. “They really do a lot for minorities and for women who wouldn’t otherwise have access to health care. Abortion is not going away, and often the silver lining and compassionate thing to do is to donate the tissue for research.”
Stem cells and fetal tissue specifically have been used in studies aiming to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
The decision to donate tissue is voluntary by the women who choose abortion, and they do so “because they feel they can contribute to breakthrough, lifesaving research,” Russ said. She likened it to the decision people make when becoming organ donors. Women who donate tissue “sign not one, but two consent forms to do so.”
Planned Parenthood supporter Dr. Sandra Penn, a retired family physician and former clinician at the state Department of Health, said in an interview that the Santa Fe and Albuquerque protests “are designed to intimidate women.”
“Their grand plan is to get rid of abortion services and health services for women,” she said, noting that Planned Parenthood offers an array of services. “Their interest is not pro-life – certainly not the life and health of women.”