Government scientists will no longer conduct research using fetal tissue, the Trump administration said Wednesday, granting the wishes of anti-abortion groups and overruling the concerns of scientists.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it has discontinued all internal research that involves fetal tissue, which is obtained through elective abortions. External fetal-tissue projects that receive government funding will continue, but any grant application that is either new or up for renewal will require the approval of an ethics advisory board, the department said in a statement.
“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.
Fetal tissue has been used for a wide variety of research in the U.S. dating back to the 1930s, including the development of several vaccines and studies of genetic diseases. There have long been strict rules around how it can be procured and used.
HHS’ decision is a victory for anti-abortion activists, who have decried the use of fetal tissue in research as unethical. But scientists have defended its use, pointing out that fetal tissue research has been essential to developing therapies that have saved millions of lives. The development of vaccines against polio, rubella, measles, chickenpox, adenovirus, and rabies all involved fetal tissue, as did the discovery of treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia.
The Trump administration said it would continue to fund research into alternatives to fetal tissue from elective abortions. Last year, NIH said it planned to devote as much as $20 million to work on such alternatives.
The administration also announced it was canceling a contract with a University of California, San Francisco lab that was testing new HIV therapies with fetal tissue. HHS had been extending that contract for 90 days at a time while it carried out an audit of federally funded fetal tissue research, but decided against extending it again after it expired Wednesday.
Megan Thielking contributed reporting.