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Dems challenge allegations against UNM

WASHINGTON – U.S. House Democrats are pushing back against a Tennessee Republican’s request that Attorney General Hector Balderas consider criminal charges stemming from fetal tissue research at the University of New Mexico, while House Republicans renewed allegations Thursday that fetal tissue researchers and abortion clinics are also breaking federal law.

Last month, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Infant Lives, wrote a letter to Balderas asking him to investigate whether the University of New Mexico and an Albuquerque abortion provider broke a state law when they transferred aborted fetuses for research.

This week, Democrats on the panel, led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, fired back at Blackburn in a letter to Balderas, denying any wrongdoing by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Southwestern Women’s Options, an Albuquerque abortion provider.

“We have seen no evidence of wrongdoing and do not support the chair’s ‘criminal referral’ to your office,” Schakowsky and the Democrats wrote to Balderas. “Proper interpretation and enforcement of state law is beyond the jurisdiction of this panel, and the chair cites no supporting case law, legislative history, or interpretive guidance for her claim.”

Republicans on the panel contend that UNMHSC and Southwestern Women’s Options are in violation of a New Mexico law called The Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, or Spradling Act. A UNM Health Sciences Center spokesman has disputed Blackburn’s position. Lawyers working for Blackburn on the Select Panel on Infant Lives interpret the 2007 Spradling Act, which establishes state law on the donation of body parts such as kidneys for medical purposes, as allowing for the donation or transfer of stillborn fetuses and fetuses resulting from miscarriages. They cite a clause that says “not including a fetus that is the subject of an induced abortion” as prohibiting the transfer of human remains in such cases.

Blackburn on Thursday released an 88-page “interim” report on the overall controversy with the Republican majority’s findings. Transferring or selling fetal tissue for profit is against federal law, but costs of the transfer can be recouped.

“We must investigate alleged wrongdoing and then propose solutions to the problem we uncover,” Republicans wrote in the report’s preface. “Recognizing that the transfer of fetal tissue for profit is a federal criminal offense, the Chairman focused the investigation on exacting detail, including bank and accounting records, all with a perspective that the motive for illicit profit could contaminate collateral activities.”

Fetal tissue research has become a heated national political battle this year, with Albuquerque at ground zero.

“The Democratic members of the Select Panel remain deeply concerned that Chair Blackburn is using the power of the Congress to chase unfounded allegations of anti-abortion extremists,” Schakowsky wrote in her letter. “This latest referral follows that pattern as the claims being championed by Chair Blackburn have already been made by the New Mexico Alliance for Life, Protest ABQ, and others.”

Tara Shaver of Protest ABQ and Elisa Martinez, executive director of New Mexico Alliance for Life, vigorously disputed Schakowsky’s characterization of their groups.

“Protest ABQ is a peaceful campaign committed to exposing abortion and to ending the atrocities committed against the most defenseless members of our community, those living in their mothers’ wombs,” Shaver said in a written statement. “Democrats who believe that it’s okay to kill a baby in the womb up to the day of birth and then use their body parts for experimental research are the ones who have taken an extreme position.”