NIH to make announcement on fetal tissue research policy amid Trump-era restrictions

Xavier Becerra
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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to make an announcement on its fetal tissue research policy following a Trump administration ban, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Thursday. 

During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Becerra said NIH “will be making an announcement I believe tomorrow” on the ban implemented in 2019.

“You want to keep your ears open for that,” he said. “But we believe that we have to do the research that it takes to make sure that we’re incorporating innovation and getting all of those types of treatments and therapies out there to the American people.”

Later in the hearing, Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) said, “I hope you’re going to continue the Trump administration policy and that’s going to be your announcement tomorrow.”

But the upcoming notice on fetal tissue research comes after 26 Democratic House members sent a letter to Becerra earlier this week calling for the Biden administration to end the Trump-era restriction. 

The letter, led by Democratic Reps. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.), labeled fetal tissue as “an irreplaceable resource for research that has led to numerous scientific and medical advances,” including treatment for COVID-19.

“The previous administration’s restrictions on fetal tissue research continue to threaten scientific and medical advances by blocking intramural researchers from using the material and discouraging extramural researchers from pursuing research with it,” the lawmakers wrote. “The Trump administration’s policy was politically motivated and unnecessary.”

The Democrats also said that fetal tissue has been used to treat cystic fibrosis and hemophilia and has assisted in studying Zika, HIV, ALS and Parkinson’s disease. Supporters of using fetal tissue in research have said it’s been used for decades, including in creating the first polio and measles vaccines. 

Then-President Trump faced pressure from anti-abortion organizations to stop allowing federal funding to go to research projects that use fetal tissue from elective abortions. The former president announced the ban in June 2019, as well as the cancellation of a multimillion-dollar contract with the University of California, San Francisco, which used fetal tissue in HIV studies.  

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” HHS said in a statement at the time. 

House Democrats responded that same month with a vote to block the ban. But the measure did not go anywhere in the Republican-majority Senate. 

Several Democratic members also requested that Trump rescind the ban amid the COVID-19 pandemic in April of last year, so federal funding could go to research on treatments involving fetal tissues.

Tags Abortion Ben Cline Donald Trump fetal tissue fetal tissue research fetal tissue research ban Jan Schakowsky Mark Pocan National Institutes of Health NIH Suzan DelBene Xavier Becerra
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