February 12, 2016

Congressional panel threatens to subpoena ABQ abortion providers

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

A U.S. congressional panel is planning on subpoenaing two Albuquerque health clinics that practice abortions as part of an investigation into allegations of selling fetal tissue for money.

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Thursday night, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, accused the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque-based Southwest Women’s Options of not cooperating with her Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives panel’s investigation into those allegations.

In a press release, Blackburn said “these organizations have compelled our panel to subpoena these documents in order to acquire information that is vital to the completion of our work.”

“Without these subpoenas, the American people and the House itself would be left to speculate about what is going on in the fetal tissue industry,” Blackburn said.

Southwest Women’s Options, which is one of just a few clinics in the nation that practices abortions into the third trimester of pregnancy, contends it’s been fully cooperative with the congressional panel.

“We have formally responded this afternoon to its information request, as we previously arranged,” Jessica R. Hertz, an attorney for Southwest Women’s Options, said in a statement to NM Political Report. “We will continue to be responsive to the panel’s inquiries and will do so in a manner that protects individuals’ safety and privacy.”

The allegations stem from undercover videos of Planned Parenthood shot by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group that accused the women’s health organization of profiting off of selling fetal tissue. Last month, a Texas grand jury investigating the Center’s allegations instead indicted its founder, David Daleiden, for tampering with government evidence and the purchase and charges related to buying human tissue.

Other investigations into the allegations led to similar results.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

“After a couple of federal investigations and a multitude of state investigations, Planned Parenthood has been cleared of any wrongdoing,” Marshall Martinez, the New Mexico spokesman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said in an interview. “These bullies are now taking the attack to other abortion care providers.”

No investigation in any state has shown that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue.

University of New Mexico spokesman Billy Sparks released the university’s correspondence with the Select Investigative Panel “to set the record straight.” The correspondence shows the university responded to the panel in late January and was granted an extension to Feb. 15 to provide documents requested by the panel.

Sparks said the press release was “not supported by the actual interactions and agreements with the Panel staff.”

“Our staff has been diligently working to gather responsive documents and we intend to honor our agreement,” Sparks said in an email. “We are disappointed that the majority would issue a precipitous press release prior to the February 15 deadline stating that we are not cooperating and are unwilling to submit the documents requested.”

Blackburn also promised to subpoena Stem Express, a California-based biomedical company that uses human stem cells for medical research.

Democrats in the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives panel denounced the planned subpoenas, contending that Blackburn never consulted with them before making her decision. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, and ranking Democrat on the panel wrote a letter asking Blackburn to halt the subpoenas, arguing they would jeopardize medical privacy and safety.

Schakowsky also accused Blackburn of abusing her subpoena power and attempting to seek out “personally identifiable information and to put in place clear rules that would govern the Panel’s handling of any sensitive information that it receives.”

In this year’s New Mexico legislative session, three bills aimed at curbing abortion rights were defeated in House and Senate committees. They are now likely dead for the session.

Updated with response from the University of New Mexico.