New Limits Placed On Fetal Tissue Medical Research

The federal government is sharply reducing federal spending on medical research that uses tissue from aborted fetuses. After a review by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched last September, the Trump administration has decided to end most federal funding of research involving fetal tissue. That included ending funding for fetal-tissue research within the National Institutes of Health and immediately canceling a $2 million-a-year contract with the University of California, San Francisco, for research involving fetal tissue from abortions.

HHS said that the review was “to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations.” About 200 research projects involving fetal tissue conducted at universities with N.I.H. grants will be allowed to continue until their funding expires. Other research projects will be subject to review on a case-by-case basis.

Future decisions on whether to fund individual projects involving aborted fetal tissue will be made by ethics advisory boards appointed by HHS secretary Alex M. Azar II. The department says that each board would include 14 to 20 people. At least one-third of those would be scientists “with substantial accomplishments in biomedical or behavioral research.” Each board would also include a lawyer, an ethicist, a theologian, and a practicing physician.

The Trump administration’s move is just the latest in a string of decisions that have pleased opponents of abortion, a major faction in the president’s political base. Other moves have included eliminating federal family planning money for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion referrals, and taking action to protect health care providers who refuse to take part in abortions on moral or religious grounds. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins called the latest pronouncement “another step by the Trump administration in the march to restore the sanctity of all human life in America.”

Dozens of scientific and medical groups wrote a letter to Mr. Azar in December stressing the importance of the research. Fetal tissue is used to test drugs, develop vaccines and study a host of medical disorders, including cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, and blindness. The American Medical Association noted in its statement that fetal tissue played a role in the development of the polio vaccine.