The Trump administration on Wednesday announced it is suspending the use of fetal tissue in research conducted by government scientists and said it is ending a contract with a California university over its use of the materials.
Private research funded by the government which uses fetal tissue will still be allowed to continue, although it will be subject to additional scrutiny.
But ending its use is a priority for anti-abortion rights activists, a core element of President Donald Trump's political base. While humanized mice research and other techniques using fetal tissue have been lucrative for some establishments, eliminating taxpayer funding for organ harvesting in the abortion industry can easily be replaced. Federal scientists working at the National Institutes of Health will be prohibited from obtaining new tissue samples from elective abortions for ongoing research projects at NIH.
The ban affects only research being done at labs sponsored by the National Institute of Health and doesn't affect private funding. A Reuters report last week detailed how Vice President Mike Pence, who has been driven throughout his political career by his evangelical Christian beliefs to restrict abortion, has played a quiet, behind-the-scenes role in abortion policy.
Wednesday's announcement turns on its head an assurance late a year ago at an invitation-only workshop at NIH on the debate over federal support for fetal tissue research by Brett Giroir, HHS' assistant secretary for health. On Wednesday, the administration also said it is not renewing an expiring contract with the University of California, San Francisco that involves fetal tissue research.More news: The Lion King | In Theaters July 19
Extramural research grants - for research outside of NIH institutions - will not now be affected during their contract period, but new applications or renewed contracts will be subjected to a strict review by an ethics review board.
"HHS Secretary Alex Azar is putting millions of dollars in lifesaving research at risk to please a small group of anti-abortion extremists", Equality Forward senior adviser Mary Alice Carter said in a statement.
"It is outrageous and disgusting that we have been complicit, through our taxpayer dollars, in the experimentation using baby body parts", Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement. But Temple said researchers would readily use alternatives to fetal tissue if that was suitable.
Cell lines created from human foetal tissue have been instrumental in developing treatments for diseases from arthritis to cystic fibrosis and vaccines for rubella, adenovirus, rabies, chickenpox and polio. Opponents, however, say that newer methods, including the use of thymus tissue from newborn infants who undergo heart surgeries, appear promising.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, joined the pro-life support for the decision, arguing the practice of fetal tissue research is immoral.More news: R. Kelly Pleads Not Guilty to 11 New Sex Crime-Related Charges
"The Trump Administration once again has done the right thing in restoring a Culture of Life to our government and responded to requests from Students for Life of America and other pro-life organizations for ethical alternatives in research", she said in a statement.
As part of the the administration's fetal tissue review, officials at the White House, HHS, and the NIH have focused on the contentious question of whether there are effective alternatives to fetal tissue in such research.
But the scientific consensus is there is no adequate substitute for fetal tissues in some research areas.
Aside from the canceled UCSF contract, no university-led programs will be affected for the time being, the administration said. A few days later, NIH pivoted and extended the contract in two 90-day increments.More news: Bruins' captain Zdeno Chara suffered broken jaw in Game 4