December 22, 2015 — The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center announced last week that it would no longer send medical residents or fellows to an Albuquerque, N.M. clinic, Southwestern Women's Options, for training on abortion care, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
UNMH officials added that since it is ending the training relationship between the center and the clinic, it will also review clinic director Curtis Boyd's voluntary faculty status. UNMH said it will not stop accepting fetal tissue donations from the clinic.
According to the Journal, UNMH's most recent training agreement with Boyd permitted two fellows in a UNM School of Medicine family planning fellowship to train for a two week period at the clinic to learn how to provide abortion care. Under the recent training agreement, Boyd and three other physicians supervised the medical residents or fellows. Boyd is one of four abortion providers in the U.S. who offers abortion care late in pregnancy, but it was not clear whether residents or fellows training at the clinic learned how to provide abortion care at that stage of pregnancy.
Last year, state Rep. Rod Montoya (R) and other antiabortion-rights lawmakers questioned UNMH about the relationship between the training agreements and the center's use of fetal tissue donations from the clinic. According to the Journal, neither Boyd nor the clinic profits from fetal tissue donations. Montoya claimed that the relationship between the clinic and the center could be interpreted as the center providing additional staff in return for fetal tissue donation.
UNMH Officials Reject Claims, Affirm Fetal Tissue Donation Process
UNMH last week said it would end the training program. However, center officials said the decision was not related to lawmakers' questions into UNMH's relationship with the clinic, and they disputed lawmakers' claims, noting that training fellows and medical residents create more work for Boyd and clinic staff.
Richard Larson, executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for research at UNMH, also rejected claims that the center's policy on human tissue research bars fetal tissue donation from the clinic. Further, UNMH officials said Boyd had confirmed that women who opt to donate fetal tissue at his clinic sign consent forms.
The clinic is the center's only source of fetal tissue, which is used in research conducted by a group of 19 academic institutions. According to the Journal, the group's research with fetal tissue has identified ways to curb the risk of blindness, mental defects and gastrointestinal problems among infants between 24 and 30 weeks old.
Erin Armstrong -- an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which represents Southwestern Women's Clinic -- said, "We know the current attack on fetal tissue donation and the fellowship training are more examples of how these extremists are trying to do anything they can to prevent women from accessing safe and legal abortion here in New Mexico ... And so we are remaining vigilant in our efforts to represent the clinic and protect these valuable programs" (Heild, Albuquerque Journal, 12/20).