It could come down to the state attorney general’s interpretation of the definition of a “decedent” as written in a New Mexico statute.
The chairwoman of a U.S. House panel looking into the fetal tissue research industry has asked New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to investigate whether the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Southwestern Women’s Options, a clinic that performs abortions in Albuquerque, are in violation of state law governing donation of body parts for medical research.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said Thursday that UNM and the clinic appear to be in violation of New Mexico’s Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. Lawyers working for the Select Panel on Infant Lives interpret the 2007 act as prohibiting transfer of fetuses from induced abortions. The clinic and Health Sciences officials contend fetal tissue transfer is legal and necessary for medical research.
A reading of the language would seem to indicate that the panel’s concern is far from spurious. The law governs body part donations from people who have died. According to a definition in the act, “‘Decedent’ means a deceased individual whose body or part is or may be the source of an anatomical gift. ‘Decedent’ includes a stillborn infant and, subject to restrictions imposed by law other than the Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, a fetus but not including a fetus that is the subject of an induced abortion.”
HSC spokesman Billy Sparks said the cited portion of the law actually provides for the tissue transfer. “The act specifically excludes fetuses from induced abortions from the definition of ‘decedents’,” he said.
But wouldn’t that interpretation mean only aborted fetuses would qualify under the law? Federal law allows abortion providers to transfer fetal tissue for medical research but prohibits them from selling it, although they are allowed to recover unspecified processing and shipping costs.
New Mexico has no official legislative history to provide guidance. While UNM officials and Washington lawyers can parse the language, the opinion that counts at this point is the attorney general’s.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.