Democrats demand information from White House about fetal tissue research ban

Democrats demand information from White House about fetal tissue research ban
© Greg Nash

A pair of House and Senate Democrats are demanding answers from the Trump administration about its decision to ban the use of federal funds for research involving fetal tissue.

In a Wednesday letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaryland postpones primary over coronavirus fears Maryland governor: 'Simply not enough supplies' on hand to tackle coronavirus Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE (D-Md.) and Senate Health Committee ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (D-Wash.) asked for a host of internal documents and communications relating to the ban.

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Murray and Cummings said the decision appears to have been driven by ideology, not science, and warned of "unintended long-term consequences" to biomedical research.

The decision “appears to have been made with no evidence of improper actions by researchers, threatens to interfere with important biomedical research and have long-term consequences,” Cummings and Murray wrote. 

“The Department’s decision appears to be driven by outside forces that have pressured the Administration to take extreme ideological positions that are unsupported by science,” they wrote.

The administration said in June that it would block scientists from using federal funds to conduct research that relies on material collected from elective abortions. 

The White House said the move was made by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE alone.

The Department of Health and Human Services had been facing pressure from leading anti-abortion groups to cancel more than $100 million in federal funding for research projects that use fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions. The groups had accused the agency of being complicit in abortions.

Scientists say using fetal tissue in medical research has been standard practice for decades, and 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.

The National Institutes of Health has funded the majority of fetal tissue research in the country, and spent $103 million on such research in fiscal 2018, the lawmakers said.