MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican lawmakers sponsoring a bill to ban research on aborted fetal tissue in Wisconsin - a proposal medical groups oppose - said Tuesday they were working on changes to protect work at the University of Wisconsin that uses existing cell lines.
The Wisconsin Medical Society, the Medical College of Wisconsin and a trade association representing biotech companies argue that the measure would outlaw current research into cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases, while putting millions of dollars in research funding and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
“We must be careful that we do not create new state laws that depart from national standards and best practices and in doing so destroy our state’s biomedical research,” said Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health and vice chancellor for medical affairs, at a public hearing.
Federal law prohibits the commercial sale of fetal tissue, but allows not-for-profit donation of tissue with the consent of the woman who had an abortion.
The bill’s supporters - including more than 50 Republican lawmakers who have signed on to the measure - argue that the proposed restrictions are a reasonable limitation on scientific research. The bill would outlaw selling, donating and experimenting with cells, tissues, organs, or other fetal body parts.
“We have an opportunity to set a high standard for the state of Wisconsin,” said the bill’s lead Assembly sponsor Rep. Andre Jacque, of De Pere, at the start of Tuesday’s hearing that drew an overflow crowd.
Jacque and other backers say the bill is in reaction to recently released videos showing a Planned Parenthood medical director in southern California meeting with people posing as potential buyers of intact fetal specimens. Planned Parenthood says the payments discussed in the videos pertain to reimbursement for the costs of procuring the tissue, which is legal.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has said it does not offer tissue donation services, but Jacque said he wants to ensure it never can.
After the hearing, UW vice chancellor for research and graduate education Marsha Mailick issued a statement naming the four providers of fetal tissue to the university, saying they are expected to follow all regulations. However, Mailick said the university was working to determine whether one provider with ties to Planned Parenthood, Advanced Bioscience Resources, was meeting “all applicable standards.”
“We will not use any suppliers who are out of compliance,” she said.
Jacque, who introduced similar bills in 2011 and 2013, said he was working on changes to address concerns raised by UW and to ensure that the proposal is not struck down as unconstitutional, as has happened to similar laws in four other states.
Jacque said the bill will still allow “the broad array of scientific research to continue,” as long as it isn’t being done on fetal body parts obtained after 2010.
Golden said even with the exceptions Jacque is talking about, passing the bill would “immediately shut down much of the promising research” done with $76 million in federal grant funding at about 100 UW labs that employ more than 1,400 people.
Lisa Johnson, chief executive of BioForward, the trade organization for Wisconsin’s biotech industry, said potential new investors will also bypass Wisconsin if the bill becomes law.
Jacque said he didn’t believe researchers would lose their jobs if the ban were to pass and other ways of performing the research would be found.
The measure is on a fast track in the Assembly, with Speaker Robin Vos saying he plans to schedule a vote in September or October. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is still reviewing the measure and doesn’t know when senators will discuss it, said his spokeswoman Myranda Tanck.
Gov. Scott Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick issued a statement saying Walker, who is running for president, finds the videos of Planned Parenthood “disturbing and abhorrent.”
While the statement did not address the details of Jacque’s bill, Patrick said Walker “will work with members of the state Legislature to pass legislation to ban these practices in Wisconsin and address concerns” about Planned Parenthood.
This story has been corrected to remove reference to stem cells in first paragraph.
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