December 6, 2016

Lawsuit alleges clinic donated fetal tissue without woman’s consent

Joe Gratz


A woman who underwent an abortion at Southwestern Women’s Options is suing the Albuquerque clinic for allegedly not informing her and receiving permission before providing fetal tissue from her terminated pregnancy for research at the University of New Mexico.

The lawsuit, filed late last month in district court in Albuquerque, also accuses the clinic’s director, Curtis Boyd, and physician, Carmen Landau, of negligence for not informing Jessica Duran the fetal tissue would be donated for medical research. Landau, according to the lawsuit, treated Duran when she underwent an abortion in October 2012.

“Women are supposed to be informed, supposed to be given information about the nature of the research, the benefits of the research, and given the opportunity to decide what happens,” Elisa Martinez, executive director of New Mexico Alliance for Life, which supports the lawsuit but is not part of the legal proceeding, said in an interview.

Related: GOP congressional panel wants abortion investigation in NM

Martinez described the lawsuit as “a result” of public records requests Alliance for Life made with UNM and a congressional panel’s investigation into the Albuquerque health clinic.

Michael Seibel, an attorney who has worked with Alliance for Life, is representing Duran in the lawsuit.

Duran’s lawsuit alleges the actions of Southwestern Women’s Options meet the state’s definition of “unfair or deceptive trade practices” and violate a state law that allows medical research on fetal tissue “only if the mother is legally competent and has given her informed consent after having been fully informed regarding possible impact on the fetus.”

The lawsuit is the latest trial for the Albuquerque health clinic, one of the few in the nation that performs abortions on women into the third trimester of pregnancy.

More recently, a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee opened its own investigation into allegations that the clinic sold fetal tissue to UNM. Those allegations stem from unproven claims generated after controversial edited anti-abortion activist videos of Planned Parenthood went viral in 2015.

No charges were filed against Planned Parenthood after an investigation, though some involved with creating the videos were indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record and another misdemeanor charge.

Related: Congressional panel threatens to subpoena ABQ abortion providers

In a prepared statement responding to Duran’s lawsuit, Southwestern Women’s Options spokeswoman Heather Brewer defended the health clinic’s 40 years of providing “quality care in accordance with state regulations.”

“While the clinic has not yet been served with the suit released to the media today, Southwestern Women’s Options stands by their procedures and their long-time commitment to providing women and their families with the highest quality care,” Brewer said.

The clinic donates fetal tissue to UNM, which uses it for medical research to help premature infants.

Allegations in Duran’s lawsuit also come from information from a congressional investigation into Southwestern Women’s Options and other abortion providers throughout the country. For example, the Congressional subcommittee reported that UNM collected tissue from two fetuses seven days after Duran’s abortion. Those fetuses were estimated to be between 11.7 weeks and 12.7 weeks from conception.

Though the lawsuit says Duran’s doctor estimated her fetus to be 13 weeks and three days old on the day of her abortion, it uses the information about UNM’s collection of the two fetuses to show that both “were in the approximate gestational age range” of Duran’s fetus.

Duran is suing Southwestern Women’s Options on eight counts and asking for damages for causing “emotional distress.”

Though UNM is prominently mentioned in her lawsuit, it is not listed as a defendant.

UNM spokesman Billy Sparks didn’t comment directly on the lawsuit.

“It is UNM’s understanding that Southwestern Women’s Options ensures that any women who agree to donate tissue do so only after being appropriately advised about their options and give their consent for any donation of tissue to the university. The university is not given the identity of the donors of the tissue,” Sparks said in a statement. “Therefore, UNM has no way of knowing whether Ms. Duran was a patient at Southwestern, if there was tissue from Ms. Duran’s pregnancy termination procedure or if it was ever donated to the university for research.”

Read the full lawsuit complaint below: