Trump administration tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research

Trump administration tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research
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The Trump administration on Wednesday said it will block scientists from using federal funds to conduct research that relies on material collected from elective abortions.

The administration also cancelled a multi-million-dollar contract with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) that uses fetal tissue to test new HIV treatments.

The decision is a major victory for the conservative anti-abortion movement, which has long called on the administration to eliminate funding for fetal tissue research.

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"Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE’s administration," the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement.

The UCSF contract was due to expire Wednesday after the Trump administration granted a 90-day extension. While the department in its statement did not give an explanation as to why the contract was cancelled, an agency official said it was for “ethics reasons.”  

The department has been facing pressure from leading anti-abortion groups to cancel more than $100 million in federal funding for research projects that use fetal tissue.

As part of the new restrictions, HHS said it is conducting a comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue “to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research, and to ensure the adequacy of procedures and oversight of this research in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved.”

HHS also said it will impose ethics reviews on government-funded research at universities and other scientific centers that propose to use fetal tissue.

Supporters of fetal tissue in research point to its use in developing the first polio and measles vaccines. They also note that its use is subject to stringent laws and ethics standards.

But anti-abortion advocates who oppose the use of fetal tissue for research say it is antiquated and there are more modern and ethical alternatives.

In a statement, the administration said it was united in the move, and it was not pushed by one particular faction.

"Today’s announcement from HHS is another important policy by President Trump to protect the dignity of human life. This was the President’s decision, not a Joe Grogan or Alex Azar decision," White House spokesman Judd Deere said. 

Anti-abortion groups applauded the administration's move.

“This type of research involves the gross violation of basic human rights and certainly the government has no business funding it,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, thanked President Trump “for taking decisive action.”

“President Trump knows we can do better as a nation and we are encouraged to see NIH Director Francis Collins carry out the President’s pro-life commitment,” Dannenfelser said.

“Taxpayer funding is better spent promoting alternatives that are already being used in the production of treatments, vaccines and medicines and to expand approaches that do not depend on the destruction of unborn children often through late-term abortion.”

Anti-abortion groups and some congressional Republicans have long urged Trump to replace National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, who is seen as unfriendly to anti-abortion groups.

Collins was first nominated by former President Obama and then renominated by Trump last year.