NIH reverses Trump administration’s ban on fetal tissue research

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) officially rescinded the ban on using fetal tissues in research on Friday, reversing a Trump-era policy instituted almost two years ago.

President Biden’s NIH released a notice saying that the agency was overturning the Trump administration’s policy that required all applicants for NIH grants involving fetal tissue from elective abortions to be reviewed by an ethics board. 

The notice also said the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH will no longer assemble an NIH Human Fetal Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board. 

“NIH reminds the community of expectations to obtain informed consent from the donor for any NIH-funded research using human fetal tissue … and of continued obligations to conduct such research only in accord with any applicable federal, state, or local laws and regulations, including prohibitions on the payment of valuable consideration for such tissue,” the notice reads. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra hinted at an announcement on the NIH’s fetal tissue policy was upcoming during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Thursday. 

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.”

Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who led a group of 26 Democratic House members calling for an end to the restriction on research involving fetal tissue, praised Friday’s announcement. 

“We applaud the Biden administration and Secretary Xavier Becerra for prioritizing science and reversing the Trump administration’s arbitrary barriers to both extramural and intramural researchers on the use of fetal tissue in scientific research,” the lawmakers said.

“During a time when our country necessitates recovery that prioritizes science over politics, this is an integral step towards protecting the advancements of our scientific community,” they added. 

In the lawmakers’ letter to Becerra earlier this week, they cited that fetal tissue has been used in research to treat and study hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, Zika, HIV, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and COVID-19. Scientists also used fetal tissue in developing the first polio and measles vaccines.

Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, issued a statement calling it “very disappointing” that the administration has decided to “fund research that requires aborted fetal tissue and organs.”

“This type of experimental research is a gross violation of human dignity and is not where the majority of Americans want their tax dollars being spent,” McClusky said. “The government has no business creating a marketplace for aborted baby body parts.”

In 2018, anti-abortion organizations mounted pressure on then-President Trump to stop permitting federal funding to go to research projects using fetal tissue from elective abortions. 

Trump revealed his policy in June 2019, prompting the Democratic-led House to vote to block the ban that same month. But with the Republican-majority Senate, that vote did not go anywhere. 

—Updated 4:17 p.m.

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

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