SANTA FE, N.M. – A New Mexico police officer who adopted a child from a pregnant woman he found using heroin in what has been held up as an alternative to abortion is pictured in uniform on an anti-abortion billboard without his permission, his superiors say.
Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets appears on a billboard along an interstate that runs through the city, along with the words "My favorite right is life."
The images include two of him holding his daughters, including one daughter he adopted from a couple he found shooting heroin while on patrol in 2017. Holets also helped raise money to find housing for girl's biological parents while they completed a drug rehabilitation program in 2018.
The heroin-using woman was pregnant at the time Holets found her, and she agreed to give up the girl for adoption after the birth.
Anti-abortion activists have held up Holets' adoption of the girl as an alternative to abortion, including the grandmother of his other daughter, Ethel Maharg.
She is the executive director of Right to Life New Mexico, the anti-abortion group that used his image on the billboard.
The Albuquerque Police Department says Holets declined the group permission to use the image of him in uniform because it would violate policy.
“The group used the images anyway, without permission and contrary to the wishes of a police officer who has distinguished himself for his integrity,” police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.
“That’s not true,” Maharg told local TV station KRQE in an edited interview. “Officer Holets never told me that I couldn’t.”
It’s unclear who took the photos, which are used without attribution on a number of anti-abortion websites.
“I think they came from Ethel or from the New Mexico Right to Life," said Albuquerque Pastor Dewey Moede, who used them in a blog post last year.
Holets has participated in political rallies and even spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention, but he did not wear a uniform or badge.
Gallegos, the police spokesmen, said he hadn't seen the images on the partisan blog posts, and he couldn't immediately say if they violated department policy.
Maharg did not return messages left with her staff Wednesday, who said she was traveling. A staff member said her comments to the television station lacked context, but declined to send a copy of the interview she said she had recorded.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.