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Trump ending fetal tissue research by federal scientists

Key Points
  • The Trump administration said Wednesday it is ending medical research by government scientists using human fetal tissue, a victory for abortion foes that comes despite impassioned pleas from scientists that some health problems can’t be studied any other way.
  • Officials said government-sponsored research by universities will be allowed to continue, subject to additional scrutiny. But ongoing research at the National Institutes of Health involving fetal tissue from elective abortion would not be allowed to proceed.
  • Critics argue that modern science has alternatives to replace fetal tissue in the laboratory, such as using tissue from infants who undergo heart surgery or stem cells that grow into organ-like clumps in lab dishes.
Research technician Hannah Salk prepares human cell samples for vaccine studies in the vaccine research laboratory at the Mayo Clinic medical center in Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.
Ariana Lindquist | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Trump administration said Wednesday it is ending medical research by government scientists using human fetal tissue, a victory for abortion foes that comes despite impassioned pleas from scientists that some health problems can't be studied any other way.

Research using fetal tissue that otherwise would be discarded has been funded by the government, under leadership of both political parties, for decades — and has led to life-saving advances including development of vaccines for rubella and rabies, and drugs for the HIV virus.

Officials said government-sponsored research by universities will be allowed to continue, subject to additional scrutiny.

But ongoing research at the National Institutes of Health involving fetal tissue from elective abortion would not be allowed to proceed.

The policy change will not affect privately funded research that uses human fetal tissue.

"Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump's administration," the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

But ending its use is a priority for anti-abortion activists, a core element of President Donald Trump's political base. Trump casts himself as "strongly pro-life," and his administration has taken many steps to restrict access to abortion, which remains a legal medical procedure. Trump has nominated federal judges who oppose abortion, attempted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, and expanded legal protection for medical providers who object to abortion.

Critics argue that modern science has alternatives to replace fetal tissue in the laboratory, such as using tissue from infants who undergo heart surgery or stem cells that grow into organ-like clumps in lab dishes.

But leading scientific groups say there still are conditions where fetal tissue is the best, or even the only, option to get clear answers to some devastating disorders — because those substitutes don't act the same as tissue from the exact developmental stage that needs to be studied.

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Key Points
  • Trump speaks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., as his vast slate of potential 2020 presidential opponents come out of the woodwork.
  • At the same time, Capitol Hill has become increasingly focused on one of the most galvanizing social issues in religion and politics alike: abortion.
  • "All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God," Trump said to cheers and applause from the audience at the breakfast.