Donald Trump has an election to win next year, and he cannot do it with a high turnout from evangelicals. So he’s giving them every they want: Conservatives judges, a potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, and today a sharp cut in fetal tissue medical research.
The Trump administration said today the federal government would sharply curtail federal spending on medical research that uses tissue from aborted fetuses, mainly by ending such research within the National Institutes of Health.
The move fulfills a top goal of anti-abortion groups that have lobbied hard for it, but scientists say the tissue is crucial for studies that benefit millions of patients.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it would immediately end a $2 million-a-year contract with the University of California, San Francisco, for research involving fetal tissue from elective abortions; the contract started in 2013.
The department also said that based on a review it began last fall, it would discontinue all research within the National Institutes of Health involving fetal tissue from elective abortions.
“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the department said in a statement.
It added that about 200 research projects involving fetal tissue and conducted at universities with N.I.H. grants would be allowed to continue, but that a new ethics advisory board would review each application for grant renewal and recommend whether to continue the funding.
It a major disappointment to scientists who say the tissue collected from elective abortions has been instrumental to unlocking the secrets of diseases that range from AIDS to cancers to Zika, as well as to developing vaccines and treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor specializing in public health law at Georgetown University, said the new restrictions would “devastate” crucial medical research.
“It will affect everything from cures for cancer and H.I.V. through to Parkinson’s and dementia,” Gostin said. “The ban on fetal tissue research is akin to a ban on hope for millions of Americans suffering from life threatening and debilitating diseases. It will also severely impact the National Institutes of Health, universities, and other researchers, who will lose key funding for their laboratories and their vital work.”
But anti-abortion groups were quick to applaud the decision.
“Most Americans do not want their tax dollars creating a marketplace for aborted baby body parts which are then implanted into mice and used for experimentation,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. “This type of research involves the gross violation of basic human rights and certainly the government has no business funding it.”
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, declared, “The government has no business subsidizing researchers that traffic the body parts of aborted babies.”
Scientists were incensed.
“I think it’s ultimately a terrible, nonsensical policy,” said Larry Goldstein, distinguished professor in the University of California San Diego’s department of cellular and molecular medicine, who has advised scientific groups that use fetal tissue. “Valuable research that is directed at helping to develop therapies for terrible diseases will be stopped. And tissue that would be used will be thrown out instead.”
As of last year, the N.I.H. spent about $100 million of its $37 billion annual budget on research projects involving fetal tissue.
The tissue is used to test drugs, develop vaccines and study cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, blindness and other disorders.
For much of that work, scientists say there is no substitute for fetal tissue.
Scientists at U.C.S.F. have been using fetal tissue to create so-called humanized mice — engrafted with the tissue to make them respond more like humans — which can then be used to test drugs and vaccines.
Equity Forward, a watchdog group that promotes abortion rights, questioned why H.H.S. had not made public any results of its review of fetal tissue research.
Mary Alice Carter, the group’s executive director, said in a statement that Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, “is putting millions of dollars in lifesaving research at risk to please a small group of anti-abortion extremists.”
“The fact is: there is no scientific reason to endanger this vital research funding,” Carter said. “Congress should use the power of the purse to put science ahead of ideology and continue funding these vital programs.”
Attribution:The New York Times