In June, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new policy curtailing government-funded research that uses fetal tissue donated after elective abortions. The decision immediately stopped several ongoing experiments by scientists employed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In addition, HHS said it has canceled a $2 million per year contract with the University of California, San Francisco, citing research involving fetal tissue. About 200 other research projects involving fetal tissue that are being conducted at universities with NIH grants will be allowed to continue until their funding expires.
The decision was welcomed by anti-abortion groups, but members of the scientific community criticized the new policy. According to Mary Alice Carter, executive director of watchdog group Equity Forward, “There is no scientific reason to endanger this vital research funding.” She told The New York Times that “Congress should use the power of the purse to put science ahead of ideology and continue funding these vital programs.”
While anti-abortion groups maintain that fetal tissue alternatives are plentiful, the scientific community argues that no alternatives to human fetal tissue have proved as effective. In December, the NIH said it would spend $20 million over the next two years on research seeking alternatives to fetal tissue.
On June 13, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a spending bill that overturned the ban, but the vote is unlikely to pass through the Republican-led Senate, making the vote largely symbolic.
Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services news release, June 5, 2019; The New York Times, June 5, 2019; The Washington Post, June 13, 2019.