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University of New Mexico halts fetal tissue research following allegations of illegal activity

(Wikimedia Commons/AllenS)University of New Mexico Hospital, located on the University of New Mexico's North Campus in Albuquerque.

The University of New Mexico (UNM) has suspended its fetal tissue research program as the school conducts an investigation regarding allegations that a tissue from an abortion has been misused.

The UNM Health Sciences Centers has confirmed that it has launched an investigation on how one researcher handled and processed a fetal tissue acquired from the local abortion clinic Southwestern Women's Options (SWO).

The university and the SWO have long been accused of violating the law over the transfer of fetal tissue for research. Among the accusers was a post-abortive woman named Jessica Duran, who said that SWO was not forthcoming about what would happen to her fetus.

Under current law, it is illegal to buy or sell fetal tissue, and there are other specific rules for how it can be used.

Allegations against UNM were first forwarded to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas' office in 2016 by a special U.S. congressional committee created to investigate Planned Parenthood's alleged involvement in the sales of aborted baby body parts and the world of fetal tissue research.

The committee examined tissue procurement firms and research entities including UNM, and it produced a report citing 15 instances in which it provided information to U.S. and state authorities of possible violations of federal and state laws.

On Thursday, the office of the attorney general announced that it has found no violations of state law in its investigation over the transfer of fetal tissue.

Balderas had ordered civil and criminal reviews but his office said that there was not enough evidence to indicate state violations. The investigation, however, was limited to state laws because Balderas had no jurisdiction over federal law. "We consider this matter closed," the attorney general's office said in a letter to pro-life group New Mexico Alliance for Life, which also made allegations against UNM.

The office also noted that the state law that governs research related to fetuses was never intended to regulate fetal tissue resulting from an abortion.

According to Life News, the university had suspended a researcher who was suspected of selling aborted baby body parts to a Michigan company.

Duran's attorney, Michael Seibel, said that he had just learned about the internal review at UNM Health Sciences. "This lady was suspended and barred from her lab in October according to reports and we're just finding out about it now through some sort of internal leak?" Seibel said.

Seibel is also questioning the investigation conducted by the attorney general's office, noting that his client has not been contacted by investigators.

He has accused the attorney general's office of protecting political special interests, but James Hallinan, a spokesman for Balderas, denied the allegation saying the office had conducted a thorough investigation that included interviews.

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