Democrats prevailed in a 225-193 vote divided roughly on party lines, slipping the amendment from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) into a broader 2020 spending package. But the maneuver is largely symbolic. With the Senate controlled by Republicans and the White House steadfast in its opposition to the controversial research practice, President Trump is unlikely to sign into law a spending bill that overturns his administration’s own directive.
The White House announced on June 5 it would no longer allow government scientists to use fetal tissue for biomedical research. The president made the decision at the urging of Vice President Mike Pence and pressure from conservative outside groups, the Washington Post reported, overruling counsel from health secretary Alex Azar and other aides who attempted to highlight the scientific benefits research involving fetal tissue can yield.
The move comes amid a broader discussion about abortion rights. Several states in recent months have passed restrictive abortion bans, and the issue has emerged as a galvanizing issue for conservative voters in the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election.
The Trump administration’s new policy won’t affect the roughly 200 extramural projects that received federal funding in 2018 for research involving fetal tissue from elective abortions. But the policy will apply to researchers who want to renew their grants or apply for new funding, who will now have their proposals reviewed by an ethics advisory board. The administration also announced earlier this month that it ended a longtime contract between the NIH and a University of California, San Francisco, lab that used fetal tissue to engineer a mouse model for testing HIV therapies.
A coalition of research groups, prominent universities, and professional medical organizations released a letter earlier this week supporting the amendment. “We are deeply concerned about the delayed development of new therapies and the loss of scientific knowledge that will result from [the Trump administration] policy, and strongly support your attempts to prevent its implementation,” the coalition wrote.