Right-Wing Media Revive Local Anti-Choice Attack On New Mexico Abortion Providers

Right-Wing Media Revive Local Anti-Choice Attack On New Mexico Abortion Providers

››› ››› SHARON KANN
The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has used documents taken from the anti-choice group the New Mexico Alliance for Life (NMAFL) to allege wrongdoing by the University of New Mexico (UNM). After a push from NMAFL to revive the allegations, conservative media outlets have recently begun circulating the panel’s misinformed anti-choice attack against UNM and New Mexico abortion providers.

House Republicans Form Select Committee To Investigate Fetal Tissue Donation After CMP Releases Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood

House Republicans Create "Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives" Following Release Of Deceptively Edited Videos Targeting Planned Parenthood. In October 2015, House Republicans voted to create a special committee to investigate abortion service providers and fetal tissue donation. The vote followed the release of deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which targeted Planned Parenthood officials and fetal tissue procurement companies.The committee was later named the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that CMP’s deceptive footage shows no illegal behavior, while a large and growing number of states have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. [Huffington Post, 10/7/15; Media Matters, 1/26/16, 8/31/15, 8/24/15]

The Select Panel Republicans Have A History Of Using Anti-Choice Groups’ Work To Baselessly Attack Fetal Tissue Donation

In Its First Hearing, The Select Panel Relied On "Evidence" Pulled Directly From CMP. Previous Media Matters research found that Republican members of the select panel presented “evidence” during the panel’s first hearing that was pulled directly from CMP's website and videos. For example, when Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) introduced Exhibit A3, she presented a form that she described as "the consent form that is used in some of these [abortion] clinics." This same form was listed on CMP's website as a "Planned Parenthood fetal tissue donation form." In its 14th video, CMP confirmed that its document was the source of Exhibit A3 by transposing the forms on top of one another and removing the redaction bars -- indicating that the two were identical. Of the 12 total exhibits, three could be sourced directly to CMP’s website. [Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 3/2/16; Media Matters, 3/7/16; 4/7/16]

Second Select Panel Hearing Continued Promoting Discredited CMP Propaganda As “Evidence.” Media Matters’ report on the select panel’s second hearing similarly found that much of the panel’s “evidence” could be linked to CMP. Ten of the documents presented could be traced back to CMP’s website or deceptively edited videos, including material previously cited during the first hearing. In particular, select panel Republicans relied on evidence sourced from CMP to accuse Planned Parenthood of violating patient privacy, improperly gaining patient consent to donate fetal tissue, and profiting from those donations. [Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 4/20/16; Media Matters, 4/22/16]

Nine Documents Submitted As “Evidence” In Select Panel’s Letters Are Linked To CMP’s Work. On June 1, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) Blackburn, chairman of the select panel, released two letters to separate entities at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding a federal investigation into “potential violations of federal law by StemExpress and a number of abortion clinics.” The letters include a total of 27 distinct documents submitted as evidence, nine of which have been linked to CMP. [Media Matters, 4/22/16; 3/7/16; 6/6/16]

In June Letter Attacking UNM, Select Panel Directly Cited The Anti-Choice Group New Mexico Alliance For Life

New Mexico Alliance For Life Is An Anti-Choice Group That Claims To Protect “Women And Unborn Children From An Unsafe Abortion Industry.” The New Mexico Alliance for Life (NMAFL) is an anti-choice group that on its website claims to protect “women and unborn children from an unsafe abortion industry.” Its website includes links to “important documents” that organizers claim relates to information about New Mexico abortion providers, including Southwestern Women’s Options (SWWO) and the University of New Mexico (UNM). [New Mexico Alliance for Life, Accessed August 2016]

In Letter Addressed to New Mexico Attorney General, Select Panel Cited Anti-Choice Group New Mexico Alliance For Life. In a June 23 letter addressed to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas Jr., select panel chairman Blackburn cited allegations by the anti-choice group the New Mexico Alliance for Life. These allegations included claims that UNM officials had improperly benefited from their relationship with abortion providers at SWWO and that the receipt of fetal tissue for research purposes violated the Spradling Act -- a state statute regulating the donation of anatomical gifts. In one example from the letter, Blackburn alleged that UNM staff dissected fetal brains “with summer camp students.” To support such claims, Blackburn listed sources including “the New Mexico Alliance for Life” along with “the New Mexico state legislature” and “the Albuquerque Journal.” Blackburn did not disclose the explicit anti-abortion mission of this group, describing it instead as “a private organization.” From the panel’s June 23 letter (citations removed):

During the summer of 2015, after the disclosure of undercover videos prompted national news coverage of the practices of abortion clinics and tissue procurement companies with respect to the handling and possible sale of fetal tissue, UNM [University of New Mexico] fell under increased scrutiny. Members of the New Mexico state legislature began to investigate UNM’s relationship with SWWO [Southwestern Women’s Options] and the handling of fetal tissue, as did a private organization, the New Mexico Alliance for Life, and the Albuquerque Journal.

[...]

The procurement notes provided to the Panel by UNM further confirm their acquisition of aborted infant tissue from SWWO for research purposes. References to specific studies were written in the notes along with lists of infant parts harvested. The lab tech wrote in May 2012 that someone from UNMHSC “asked clinic for digoxin treated tissue 24-28 weeks for methylation study + because [redacted] wants whole, fixed brains to dissect w/ summer camp students. Clinic est. 27 and 28 weeks.” [Letter to Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

Blackburn Also Cited Allegations From New Mexico Alliance For Life In A Footnote In Her June 23 Letter. Blackburn additionally cited the anti-choice New Mexico Alliance for Life (NMAFL) in a footnote of the June 23 letter. In that section, Blackburn described statements by UNM officials on the termination of their partnership -- the “UNM Fellowship” -- with the abortion provider Southwestern Women’s Options (SWWO). Although UNM officials “denied that the investigations prompted the program termination,” in the footnote Blackburn included allegations from NMAFL, which “claimed the real reason for the program termination was its own work exposing the violation of university policy by the agreement.” Notably, the full citation of that footnote was marked as “redacted” and the letters posted on the select panel’s website do not include the “key” explaining the redaction that was referred to in the footnote. From the panel’s June 23 letter:

In a terse letter from Doctor #1 to Doctor #3 dated December 14, 2015, the UNM Fellowship program at SWWO was terminated, despite the fact that more than six months remained under the two-year contract signed in 2014. ... It is difficult to dispute that the timing of UNM’s decision was related to the various investigations. Although UNM officials denied that the investigations prompted the program termination and disputed that SWWO had benefited from the program, the 2014 agreement explicitly stated that its “major goal” was of benefit to SWWO—namely, to “give additional volume of 2nd trimester abortions” at the clinic. 21

[...]

21. Compare Heild, supra note 19; 2014 UNM-SWWO agreement at UNM03417, attachment 7. The New Mexico Alliance for Life claimed the real reason for the program termination was its own work exposing the violation of university policy by the agreement. Redacted citation—see key. [Letter to Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

After New Push From NMAFL, Conservative Media Outlets Revive The Select Panel’s Allegations Against UNM

The Daily Caller: UNM Medical School Dean “Admit[s] To The Allegation” That UNM “Allowed High School Students … To Dissect The Brains Of Aborted Babies.” On August 18, NMAFL released a video of an anti-abortion activist (identified by the anti-choice news site LifeNews.com as Marcie May) asking UNM’s Dr. Paul Roth to repeat his previous claims about “the workshop with UNM fetal remains with high school students.” Dr. Roth explained that dissections occurred “during one of these summer workshops,” but he did not affirm the assertion about the workshop involving “high school students.” The Daily Caller education editor Eric Owens cited the video in his August 25 article to allege that Dr. Roth could be seen “admitting to the allegation” that UNM employees “allowed high school students … to dissect the brains of aborted babies.” Owens continued that “Roth would not elaborate about the source of the aborted baby brains … to be sliced up by high school kids on the summer learning adventure.” From The Daily Caller:

Summer camp staffers on the campus of the University of New Mexico allowed high school students participating in the camp to dissect the brains of aborted babies.

Paul Roth, the dean of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, can be seen admitting to the allegation in a video published this month by the New Mexico Alliance for Life.

[...]

Roth would not elaborate about the source of the aborted baby brains or the way in which the taxpayer-funded university obtained them to be sliced up by high school kids on the summer learning adventure.

Earlier this summer, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) of the U.S. House Select Panel on Infant Lives cited a May 2012 request to the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center “for digoxin treated tissue 24-28 weeks for methylation study + because [redacted] wants whole, fixed brains to dissect w/ summer camp students. Clinic est. 27 and 28 weeks.” [The Daily Caller, 8/25/16; LifeNews.com, 8/23/16; New Mexico Alliance for Life, 8/18/16]

Fox News.com Extensively Drew Information From NMAFL And The Select Panel To Revive Allegations Of Wrongdoing By UNM. In an August 28 article, FoxNews.com’s Joseph Kolb used NMAFL’s video to revive allegations from the select panel’s “scathing 291-page report” that UNM was “illegally transferring fetal tissue” and violating the Spradling Act. Although Kolb noted that UNM has “not elaborated on the [procurement] notes or the ages of camp participants,” he then included comments from NMAFL executive director Elisa Martinez, who continued to push her organization's claim that “UNMHSC employee order (sic) babies' brains to dissect with summer camp students”:

The House received disturbing documentation in regards to the summer camp.

The custom ordering of brains for "summer camp students" is taken from UNM Health Sciences Centers, "Procurement Notes" notebook, in which an unnamed university staffer wrote:

"Asked clinic for digoxin treated tissue 24-28 wks. for methylation study & because [name redacted] wants whole, fixed brains to dissect w/ summer camp students."

The school has not elaborated on the notes or the ages of camp participants.

“The fashion in which the nameless UNMHSC employee custom orders baby's brains from Boyd's abortion clinic is shocking and disgusting-- but worse, the UNMHSC employee order (sic) babies' brains to dissect with summer camp students, which is admitted by UNM HSC chief administrator in the video obtained by New Mexico Alliance for Life,” said [NMAFL executive director Elisa] Martinez. [FoxNews.com, 8/26/16]

The Select Panel Sourced At Least Six Documents From NMAFL In June Letter Attacking UNM And New Mexico Abortion Providers

1. Attachment 3: UNM Second Trimester Abortion Protocol

Letter Pointed To “Second Trimester Pregnancy Termination” Document As Evidence That UNM “Performs Surgical Abortion For Any Reason Through 25 Weeks Gestation.” Attachment 3 was described as a “Second Trimester Pregnancy Termination” guide. Blackburn’s letter cited the document as evidence that “UNM Hospital performs surgical abortions for any reason through 25 weeks gestation.” In particular, the letter criticized the hospital’s willingness to terminate a later pregnancy “on a case-by-case basis for maternal or fetal reasons.”[Letter To Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

NMAFL Described A “Second Trimester Pregnancy Termination” Document As A “UNM Live-Birth Abortion Protocol.” In a section of its website dedicated to documents the group claims it obtained about abortion providers, NMAFL listed a “Second Trimester Pregnancy Termination” form. The document was labeled as a “UNM Live-Birth Abortion Protocol” and included a statement that UNM doctors were authorized to perform an abortion after 25 weeks “on a case-by-case basis for maternal or fetal reasons.” [New Mexico Alliance for Life, Accessed August 2016]

Comparison Of The Panel’s Attachment 3 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals That They Are Identical.

2. Attachment 7: 2014 UNM-SWWO Agreement

Panel’s Attachment 7 Called “Contract” That “Describes Assignments” For UNM Doctors At Abortion Clinic. In the June 23 letter, Blackburn claims that through its investigation the panel had obtained a “contract” between the UNM Hospital and SWWO. According to the letter, the contract “describes assignments” for UNM medical students to be staffed at SWWO’s Albuquerque clinic in order to “give additional volume of 2nd trimester abortions.” [Letter To Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

NMAFL Posted A 2014 Contract Between UNM And SWWO. Among the documents on NMAFL’s website the anti-choice group listed a 2014 contract between UNM and SWWO. According to the posted contract, UNM medical providers would be rotated to the SWWO clinic to provide abortions. In particular, the contract stated that, “The major goal of the rotation is to give additional volume of 2nd trimester abortions.” [New Mexico Alliance for Life, Accessed August 2016]

Comparison of Panel’s Attachment 7 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical.

[Image not included because NMAFL’s version includes release of provider information.]

3. Attachment 11: 2012 UNM-PPFA New Mexico Agreement

Attachment 11 Showed “A UNM-Planned Parenthood Agreement” That Did “Include Signed Approvals” By Appropriate University Officials. In footnote 16 of the June 23 letter, Blackburn contrasted UNM’s contracts with SWWO to “a UNM-Planned Parenthood agreement.” According to Blackburn, the contract between UNM providers and the then-Planned Parenthood of New Mexico (PPFA-NM) did “include signed approvals” by the appropriate university signature authorities. [Letter To Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

NMAFL Posted A “Contract UNM Has With Planned Parenthood Of New Mexico” Obtained Explicitly “For Comparison.” In a December 2015 press release, NMAFL posted a “contract UNM has with Planned Parenthood of New Mexico” that it claims “is properly signed … [and] addresses key elements required for contractual agreements.” Although the target of NMAFL’s call to action was a provider at the UNM Hospital, NMAFL stated that “for comparison,” it “obtained a copy of a similar abortion training residency program” at PPFA-NM. NMAFL additionally included UNM’s contract with PPFA-NM in the documents portion of its website. [New Mexico Alliance for Life, 12/22/15; Accessed August 2016]

Comparison of Panel’s Attachment 11 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical.

 

4. Attachment 19: Volunteer Faculty Liability Insurance

Attachment 19 Is Liability Coverage Policy That Shows Providers “Receive Substantial Benefits” From Their Partnership With UNM. According to the June 23 letter, “Most of the doctors employed on the staff of SWWO also have what are described as ‘volunteer faculty’ positions at UNM.” Blackburn argued that Attachment 19 -- a volunteer faculty liability insurance form -- showed that despite receiving no salary from UNM, volunteer faculty “receive substantial benefits for their faculty status.” [Letter To Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

NMAFL Posted A “Volunteer Faculty Professional Liability Insurance” Form On Its Website. In the documents section of its website, NMAFL posted a “volunteer faculty professional liability insurance” form. The form included the statements that the volunteer faculty member would serve as a “public employee without compensation” and would be covered only if they did “not have other insurance coverage that provides coverage of his/her duties and activities at the University.” [New Mexico Alliance for Life, Accessed August 2016]

Comparison of Panel’s Attachment 19 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical.

[Image not included because NMAFL’s version includes release of provider information.]

5. Attachment 29: 5/5/15 Letter Doctor 3 to UNM

Panel Said Attachment 29 Is A Letter Confirming SWWO’s “Desire To Continue To Provide Aborted Infant Tissue For Research” To UNM. According to panel Republicans, Attachment 29 is a letter from a SWWO provider to UNM confirming the provider’s “desire to continue to provide aborted infant tissue for research.” In the panel’s June 23 letter, it argued that because of this continuing partnership, the “remains of these and hundreds of other aborted infants were collected by SWWO” and transferred to UNM “for use in research.” [Letter To Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

NMAFL Alleged Letter Proves SWWO Illicitly “Facilitates The Collection Of Aborted Baby Body Parts” For UNM. In a January 2016 blog post, NMAFL alleged a letter to a UNM Hospital official proved that SWWO illicitly “‘facilitates’ the collection of aborted baby body parts” for UNM researchers. According to NMAFL, this arrangement is “disturbing and problematic” as well as “in clear violation” of rules that prevent profit from the donation of fetal tissue. [New Mexico Alliance for Life, 1/5/16]

Comparison of Panel’s Attachment 29 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical.

[Image not included because NMAFL’s version includes release of provider information.]

6. Attachment 32: 7/22/2015 Doctor #8 Letter to New Mexico Legislators

Attachment 32 Is A “Letter To New Mexico Legislators” That “Described Five Studies Using Aborted Infant Tissue.” The select panel called Attachment 32 a “letter to New Mexico legislators” from a UNM official that “described five studies using abortion infant tissue.” According to Blackburn, this tissue was donated to UNM researchers from SWWO and subsequently used in at least “eighteen (18) studies conducted in collaboration with SWWO since 1995.” [Letter To Hector H. Balderas Jr., attorney general of New Mexico, The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, 6/23/16]

NMAFL Posted Document Described As Letter “To New Mexico Legislators” About UNM’s Fetal Tissue Research. In the documents section of its website, NMAFL posted a letter from a UNM official addressed to “New Mexico Legislators.” The letter detailed the various “abortion-related research being conducted at UNM.” [New Mexico Alliance for Life, Accessed August 2016]

Comparison Of Panel’s Attachment 32 And NMAFL’s Document Reveals They Are Identical.

There Has Been No Substantiation Of Any Claims Against UNM

Statement From UNM Health Sciences Center Denies Violation Of Spradling Act. Shortly after the release of the select panel’s letter, the UNM Health Sciences Center (UNMHSC) released a statement denying allegations of wrongdoing. The statement read that UNM officials “categorically deny the Chair’s [Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s] assertions in every respect.” It continued that in addition to being “committed to complying with all federal and state laws, rules and regulations,” UNM providers were specifically not in violation of the Spradling Act. As UNMHSC spokesperson Billy Sparks explained to the Albuquerque Journal, the Spradling Act “specifically excludes fetuses from induced abortions from the definition of ‘decedents,’” which means that it “does not apply to fetuses from pregnancies that may have been terminated at Southwestern Women’s Options.” He additionally noted that UNM officials were not illicitly profiting from their relationship with SWWO abortion providers. From the Albuquerque Journal:

“Documentation obtained by the panel in the course of our investigation reflects the transfer of fetal tissue from Southwestern Women’s Options and the University of New Mexico for research purposes is a systematic violation of New Mexico’s Spradling Act,” Blackburn said in a statement. “These violations occurred as UNM personnel procured fetal tissue from patients at Southwestern Women’s Options for use by UNM entities for research.”

But UNMHSC spokesman Billy Sparks said the very section of the law the Select Panel cites actually provides for the fetal tissue transfer. Sparks said UNM was “profoundly disappointed” by Blackburn’s assertion.

“We categorically deny the Chair’s assertions in every respect,” Sparks said. “The University of New Mexico and its medical providers are committed to complying with all federal and state laws, rules and regulations. This includes the New Mexico Jonathan Spradling Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. This act only applies to ‘decedents.’ The act specifically excludes fetuses from induced abortions from the definition of ‘decedents’.

“In other words, contrary to Chairman Blackburn’s assertions, this act does not apply to fetuses from pregnancies that may have been terminated at Southwestern Women’s Options,” Sparks added. “Additionally, UNM has never paid for this tissue—it has been provided free to the University of New Mexico for medical research.” [Albuquerque Journal, 6/23/16; Statement from University of New Mexico Health Science Center, 6/23/16]

The “Definitions” Section Of The Spradling Act Says It Does Not Apply To “A Fetus That Is The Subject Of An Induced Abortion.” While the June 23 letter from the select panel quoted by right-wing media alleges that the “transfer of fetal tissue from SWWO to UNM for research purposes is a direct violation of New Mexico’s Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act,” the "definitions" section of the online text of the act says the act's restrictions are applicable to the "body or part" of a "decedent," which does not apply to fetal tissue from abortions. From 2015 New Mexico Statutes, Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (emphasis added):

As used in the Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act:

[…]

D. "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. [2015 New Mexico Statutes, Chapter 24 - Health and Safety, Section 6B Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, Section 24-6B-2 Definitions, Accessed 8/26/16]

Images provided by Sarah Wasko

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