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.
At least one abortion rights group in New Mexico is calling for anti-abortion activists to take some responsibility for the shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood this weekend, while anti-abortion activists say they decry the violence. Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, told NM Political Report that Protest ABQ and other anti-abortion activists should take at least some responsibility for the attitude that she thinks led to the shooting. She said problems arise “when you use rhetoric that equates abortion with murder.”
Following news reports of the shooting in Colorado Springs, Protest ABQ released a statement condemning the attacks. “Our prayers go out to all those involved today in the senseless shooting at the Planned Parenthood located in Colorado Springs, Colorado,” the statement read. “We continue to pray for the law enforcement officers and all of those who were shot and for the safety of those currently responding to this ongoing situation.”
Tara Shaver, a cofounder of Protest ABQ, told NM Political Report her group will not change their activities based on what happened in Colorado.
The New Mexico Legislature’s opening week coincides with the anniversary of the polarizing Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and activists who oppose abortion say they hope this session will shift state laws in their favor. Formed after Albuquerque voters defeated a ballot measure to restrict abortion services in the city, Protest ABQ has plans to take advantage of the newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives by pressuring lawmakers into votes on statewide restrictions. As of press time, no abortion rollback measures have been proposed. That could change quickly if Father Stephen Imbarrato and the activists he helps coordinate have their way. Imbarrato is a Catholic priest whose accent and straight-up, conversational style harken back to his New York roots.