January 5, 2018

AG finds no law broken over fetal tissue donations

Courtesy photo

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

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. “UNM’s research has improved the lives of patients at home and around the world. As an institution, we strive to conduct all research in compliance with the highest legal and ethical standards.”

To violate the Spradling Act, someone must “purchase” or “sell” an organ or tissue form a deceased individual for “valuable consideration,” the AG’s office explained.

SWWO donated fetal tissue to UNM and members of SWWO “served as unpaid volunteer faculty at UNM and received access to UNM programs and facilities.”

These, the letter stated, did not rise to a “direct quid pro quo exchanges for tissue.”

Since such arrangements are common between healthcare providers and research institutions, the AG’s office said classifying such as a purchase or sale would require tissue transfers could only take place between providers and institutions with no previous relationships.

It is also illegal under federal law to sell fetal tissue, but it is not illegal to make donations for medical purposes.

As for MFIEA, the AG’s office found it does not apply to fetal tissue as a result of abortion.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who is running for governor, called for an investigation by Balderas in June 2016, when the House Select Panel on Infant Lives issued a criminal referral.

He expressed disappointment in Balderas’ response.

“Balderas took no action for nearly a year and a half, and is only now releasing a statement after the U.S. Department of Justice has stated they are looking into the matter,” Pearce said. “In the meantime, Balderas has allowed for over 100 cases’ statute of limitation to expire, neglecting to uphold the right to justice for American citizens.”

NM Political Report reached out to Blackburn’s office, but did not receive a response by press time.

The AG’s office also sent a letter to Tara Shaver, a founder of Abortion Free New Mexico with her husband Bud Shaver.

The two are controversial and prominent anti-abortion activists, known for their efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Albuquerque. Albuquerque is one of the few places in the nation with providers of such abortions.

“Attorney General Hector Balderas protects those who profit from and are in the business of dehumanizing children in the womb by his lack of enforcement of state laws that are designed to protect New Mexicans, which should include those in the sanctuary of their mothers’ wombs,” Tara Shaver said in a statement on her website. “There will never be justice in New Mexico until leaders, law makers (sic) and law enforcers stop propping up a failing abortion industry whose grisly trade negatively effects (sic) the most vulnerable of our communities.”

Those efforts failed in a 2013 citywide vote.

The AG’s office did not weigh in on if the facilities violated federal law, as that is not under the office’s jurisdiction.

“We consider this matter closed,” the letter to Blackburn says.

Correction: This story originally referred to the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center as the University of New Mexico Hospital. This has been fixed.

  Letters on UNM, SWWO investigations by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd