President Trump’s biggest GOP allies pushed Thursday to discontinue the use of fetal tissue in taxpayer-funded research, saying its benefits are overblown, it offends their constituents and good alternatives seem to exist.
Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said people in their districts are furious their dollars support facilities like Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, and government scientists who procure tissue from the procedures.
“Something they don’t like, both on the front end and back end — they’re paying for it,” Mr. Jordan said at a hearing before the House Oversight Committee.
Panel Democrats accused them of flirting with danger. Fetal tissue has been a “gold-standard resource” for decades of research into diseases like HIV/AIDS and will play a critical role in landing a vaccine for mosquito-borne Zika virus, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Illinois Democrat, said.
The Democrats’ main witness said the scientific consensus is that fetal tissue has unmatched qualities, including an adaptability that isn’t found in adult cells.
“Alternatives to fetal tissue are not sufficient. All of them come with significant deficiencies,” testified Sally Temple, board member at the International Society for Stem Cell Research.
The controversy over fetal-tissue procurement burst into view under President Obama in 2015, when the Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden released a series of undercover videos about Planned Parenthood’s role in transferring tissue after abortions.
Critics said the clips were heavily edited, and the episode resulted in legal wrangling before dropping out the headlines.
Pro-life groups haven’t forgotten about the videos and the underlying issue, though, and are pushing a sympathetic Trump administration to get out of the fetal-tissue business once and for all.
Some Republicans used Trump-ian terminology from the dais on Thursday.
“I think emphatically there should be a wall built between the taxpayer dollars and the use of those dollars going toward aborted baby parts and the research thereof,” Rep. Jody Hice, Georgia Republican, said.
The issue is back on the front burner after Science Magazine reported the administration told HIV researchers employed by the National Institutes of Health to stop ordering fetal tissue in September.
That same month, the Health and Human Services Department said it would conduct an audit into “all acquisitions involving human fetal tissue” after canceling a contract with Advanced Bioscience Resources to purchase aborted fetal tissue for research.
And this week, NIH said it’s prepared to spend up to $20 million on effective alternatives to human tissue.
Pro-life witnesses said there are alternatives that can be used already, including adult tissues, artificially grown cerebral organioids and “humanized” mice, in which human tumor tissue is engrafted onto the rodents.
“We do not need fetal body parts from aborted babies to achieve future scientific and medical advancements,” said Tara Sander Lee, associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, a major pro-life group.
David Prentice, an advisory board member for the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, said the advantages of fetal tissue are overblown.
“Taxpayer funds should be redirected to the numerous, modern, more productive scientific alternatives,” Mr. Prentice testified.
Scientists will use alternatives where available, but for some research, fetal tissue “cannot be substituted,” according to Ms. Temple.
She cited the development of “PrEP” drugs, which can prevent the transmission of HIV, as the direct product of fetal-tissue research.
Federally mandated restrictions, she testified, will hinder scientists who are developing other medicines and cures.
“I have spoken to many of my colleagues, and the word that they have used over again is ‘devastating,’” she said. “This will essentially cripple many of the important lines of investigation and therapy development.”