Anti-abortion activists praised the U.S. Department of Justice for sending several criminal referrals to the FBI with allegations that the University of New Mexico Hospital and Southwest Women’s Options conducted illegal activities related to fetal tissue donations. In a letter last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Stephen Boyd addressed concerns U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce raised in September. Pearce is New Mexico’s lone Republican member of the delegation. “This is a serious matter, and the Department takes these referrals seriously,” Boyd wrote to the congressman. “The Department has brought each of these referrals to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for review and any appropriate follow-up action.”
The issue goes back to a 2015 video that allegedly showed that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue.
During a sit-down earlier this month in the sparse Albuquerque administrative office for Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, CEO Vicki Cowart wondered aloud if the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision had lulled much of the public into taking legal abortion for granted. Here in New Mexico, abortion access has been solidly maintained by decades of activism by rights proponents and their collaborations with supportive elected officials. “Two generations of women have grown into adults with this not being an issue,” said Cowart. Yet two generations of women have seen gradual rollbacks in abortion rights and access in many other states across the country, where anti-abortion activists intent on ending the practice have been doggedly, methodically successful. Read this story’s companion piece, “NM state law, the U.S. Supreme Court and abortion access” here.
This week in the Legislature may see some debate regarding abortions and whether or not doctors should have a role in family discussions. Earlier this month, Gov. Susana Martinez outlined her legislative priorities in her State of the State address. In addition to presenting her six-point-plan to bolster the state’s economy, she also called for legislators to tackle certain issues during the 30-day legislative session. She encouraged them to pass bills related to education reform and expanded criminal penalties. Legislators have introduced a handful of bills related to abortion, but she skirted the issue in her speech.
A state investigation prompted by a congressional panel and anti-abortion activists found no criminal wrongdoing by Southwestern Women’s Options (SWWO) or the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center over fetal tissue donations. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent letters to the members of the House Select Panel on Infant Lives, including chairwoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Blackburn complained to Balderas last June that SWWO appeared to have violated two state laws: The Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, or Spradling Act, and the Maternal, Fetal and Infant Experimentation Act (MFIEA). After its months-long investigation, the Attorney General’s office said donations from SWWO to UNM did not violate either law. “We are pleased that the New Mexico Attorney General confirmed that the University of New Mexico did not violate any state laws,” UNM Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Alex Sanchez told NM Political Report in a statement.
Last week, 65 administration nominees — including four to Health and Human Services — sailed through the Senate confirmation process by unanimous vote without any debate. One candidate left out was Dr. Brett Giroir, a Texas physician, who is the president’s choice for assistant secretary of health. Now, shedding light on their reservations, Senate Democrats are saying that Giroir’s testimony before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee left them skeptical that he would support women’s health programs, which they say are under threat. The Democrats are insisting on a roll call vote on the Senate floor — after the Senate reconvenes Sept. 5. The position for which Giroir is nominated includes oversight of the Office of Population Affairs, which administers Title X grants, and the Office of Adolescent Health, which oversees the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains says they received enough donations to keep its Farmington health center open. Five months ago, the organization announced the Farmington location would be one of three in the state to close by this fall. “We cannot begin to express our gratitude to the people of Farmington and their commitment to reproductive health care access in New Mexico,” Vicki Cowart, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said in a statement. “We know how important access to reproductive care is for our rural communities, and today we celebrate being able to keep this health center open, thus ensuring access to care for women, men, and young people in Farmington and the surrounding areas.”
The health center does not perform surgical abortions. In May, the organization announced it needed to close three health centers in New Mexico, including locations in Farmington, Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.
If Curtis Boyd lives by one professional mantra, it’s this: Unless a woman has full autonomy over her body, she lacks full citizenship and lives instead as a second-class citizen. The controversial and celebrated abortion provider explains this thoughtfully on a hot, dry Fourth of July day in his Albuquerque office. A wiry man of 80 years, Boyd wears a gray surgical gown and says he’s working the holiday because the type of procedure that his clinic, Southwestern Women’s Options, is known for requires multiple days. The clinic sits near I-25 on Lomas Boulevard, a crowded east-west thoroughfare on the edge of downtown Albuquerque. Across the street looms a pink billboard paid for by the group Prolife Across America.
Though Dr. Curtis Boyd spent five years before Roe v. Wade risking time in jail and his medical license by performing abortions, he says things got worse after the landmark ruling legalizing abortion across the country. At first, he says the anti-abortion movement wasn’t given much credence. But he points to the election of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party’s embrace of a stance against abortion access as a turning point. During the 1980s, Boyd says protesters often swarmed his car to block his exit from the clinic parking lot. His staff, eyewitnesses to the protests, would call the cops to intervene.
Two advocacy organizations filed discrimination complaints against an Albuquerque Walgreens pharmacy for allegedly refusing to fill a birth control prescription. The complaint, sent to the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, was written by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Southwest Women’s Law Center. The organizations allege a pharmacy employee at a store on Coors Boulevard refused to fill a misoprostol prescription to a teenage woman who was at the store with her mother last August, citing personal reasons. This refusal, according to two complaints, violates the New Mexico Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sex. “Refusing to fill prescriptions that are directly tied to the attributes that make women different from men—i.e. the ability to become pregnant—constitutes sex discrimination,” the complaints read.
Three Planned Parenthood clinics in New Mexico—one in Albuquerque, one in Rio Rancho and one in Farmington—will close by this fall. Whitney Phillips, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees clinics for the women’s health provider in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada, attributed the closures to “reduced patient volume” and challenges in the healthcare industry. “There’s no secret that the reproductive health landscape right now is tough,” she said, referring to the “defund Planned Parenthood” campaigns from opponents of abortion. None of the three clinics slated to close perform surgical abortions. She also ascribed some of the troubles to the federal Affordable Care Act, which “impacted the way we operated, the way we bill things.” Still, she said Planned Parenthood still supports ACA “because the more people with insurance, the better.”
The coming closures will drop the number of New Mexico Planned Parenthood clinics from six to three by this September.
Anti-abortion advocates from across the country held a press conference in Albuquerque Wednesday morning denouncing New Mexico’s flagship university for its fetal tissue donation practices. Among those who spoke at the event were Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican and Washington D.C. attorney Catherine Glenn Foster. Blackburn, who chaired the controversial congressional Select Panel on Infant Rights, said she came to “join my colleague in the House [of Representatives] and those in New Mexico that have worked on the issue of life.”
The Select Panel released a report in January faulting the University of New Mexico for lacking protocols to “ensure the survival of infants who show signs of life following extraction from the uterus.” It also scrutinized UNM’s relationship with Southwest Women’s Options, an abortion provider that has donated fetal tissue to the university for scientific research. Supporters of abortion rights, as well as minority Democrats in the Select Panel, have dismissed the report and the panel’s investigation for using “McCarthy-era tactics” to conduct “an end-to-end attack on fetal tissue donation and women’s health care.”
Pearce contended that “the laws are clear” and that “we’re simply stating, ‘Do not violate the law.’”
The Select Panel made 15 criminal referrals for its research of abortion providers and educational institutions across the country, including to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. To date, Balderas has not acted on the referral to his office.