Policy Shift Ends Fetal-Tissue Research at Federal Level

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, at NIH headquarters in Bethesda, Md., on Aug. 17, 2009. The Trump administration is ending the medical research by government scientists using human fetal tissue. Officials said Wednesday government-funded research by universities will be allowed to continue, subject to additional scrutiny. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Government scientists will no longer conduct medical research using human fetal tissue, following a policy shift announced Wednesday by the Trump administration.

“Intramural research that requires new acquisition of fetal tissue from elective abortions will not be conducted,” the Department of Health and Human Services said this morning in a statement.

Harvested from dead fetuses after an abortion that was either induced or occurred naturally, fetal tissue cells are often used in HIV and childhood cancer research because they lack the cell-surface markers that trigger immune-system reactions in mature cells.

HHS officials said the policy change will not prohibit privately funded researchers from using fetal tissue. Additionally, government-funded research conducted by universities will be allowed to proceed. 

Among groups that promote lawmakers opposed to abortion, the Susan B. Anthony List said in a statement that there are viable alternatives to fetal tissue that could be promoted.

The groups say alternatives are available; scientific groups say that’s not the case for every disease and condition.

But neuroscientist Sally Temple told lawmakers at a December hearing before the House that the scientific community is in agreement that there is no adequate substitute today for fetal tissue in specific research areas.

“It is not the same material,” said Temple, who testified on behalf of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. “It is a different developmental stage. It has unique properties.”

Though biochemist Tara Sander Lee testified about the possibility of using tissues from infants who have to have heart surgery, Temple said alternatives to fetal tissue would be used readily if they were suitable.

The announcement comes as part of a concerted effort by the Trump administration to restrict access to legal abortions.

In addition to attempts to slash Planned Parenthood’s budget, President Donald Trump has nominated federal judges who oppose abortion and expanded legal protection for medical providers who object to abortion.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement that the administration has “once again done the right thing in restoring a culture of life to our government.”

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