Beyond ‘Women’s issues’: Finding our footing in divided discourse

It’s been three years since I began work for NM Political Report focused on politics and what are often referred to as “women’s issues.” It’s phrasing I reflexively shy away from, as there are few issues not relevant to women. Areas like reproductive health and access relate to everyone, regardless of background and gender identity—they’re relevant to every family, no matter their composition or belief systems.

Yet many public policies have disproportionate effects on women and families with children. Protections for pregnant workers, for example, were among the proposals I followed in 2015 and were among the many which failed to garner enough support from lawmakers. I also covered public policy and discourse related to abortion, which bears heavy baggage in simple utterance of the word. Then, the local atmosphere surrounding abortion felt both disconcertingly polarized and exhausted.

DOJ refers criminal accusations by Pearce on fetal tissue donations to FBI

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.

Last-ditch effort by Republicans to replace ACA: 5 things you need to know

Republican efforts in Congress to “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act are back from the dead. Again. While the chances for this last-ditch measure appear iffy, many GOP senators are rallying around a proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), along with Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

They are racing the clock to round up the needed 50 votes — and there are 52 Senate Republicans.

Senate Democrats delay HHS nominee over women’s health funding

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.

Farmington Planned Parenthood health center to stay open

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.

Three NM Planned Parenthood clinics to close this year

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.

House committee stalls another round of abortion bills

A panel of state lawmakers spent five hours Sunday hearing and debating two bills that would have restricted abortion access in New Mexico before tabling them on party lines. At one point, state Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, bemoaned the predictability of the situation. “I was going to ask some questions, but it’s futile,” he said to the sponsors of a bill to ban abortions after 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. “We all know how this committee is going to vote. This bill is going to die on a 3-2 vote.”

Some members of the public echoed this.

Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.

Congressional panel studies ‘born alive’ problem that doctors call ‘medically inaccurate’

A year-long congressional investigation that opponents dismissed as “an end-to-end attack on fetal tissue donation and women’s health care” criticized two Albuquerque abortion providers. Both the University of New Mexico and Southwestern Women’s Options, according to the congressional Select Panel on Infant Rights’ Final Report released earlier this month, lack protocols to “ensure the survival of infants who show signs of life following extraction from the uterus.”

Anti-abortion activists use the term “born alive” abortion to describe the scenario, which involves an infant that is alive after a botched medical abortion. But there’s one big problem with this conclusion in the estimated $1.5 million investigation: ”born alive” abortions don’t actually occur, according to medical professionals. In a written statement to NM Political Report, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) dismissed the term “born alive” as “medically inaccurate.”

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Congressional Dems decry ‘McCarthy-era tactics’ in abortion investigation

A controversial congressional panel investigating abortion practices in New Mexico and the across the country is under scrutiny for its tactics and mission from some of its own members. In a report released this week titled “Setting the Record Straight: The Unjustifiable Attack on Women’s Health Care and Life-Saving Research,” Democratic members of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives skewered the majority in the committee for using “McCarthy-era tactics” to conduct “an end-to-end attack on fetal tissue donation and women’s health care.”

The Select Panel, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, earlier this year sought subpoenas from Southwestern Women’s Options and the University of New Mexico and recommended the state Attorney General open a criminal investigation into the health clinic’s fetal tissue donation policy to the university. Related: Lawsuit alleges clinic donated fetal tissue without woman’s consent

Congressional Republicans formed the Select Panel after controversial, heavily edited videos of Planned Parenthood by anti-abortion activists went viral in 2015. Those videos led to unproven claims that abortion clinics across the country were selling fetal tissue for profit. The Select Panel is expected to release a final report on its investigation into fetal tissue donations before Congress adjourns later this month, according to Special Panel spokesman Mike Reynard.