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Trump administration to end funding for stem cell research that uses fetal tissue from abortions

HHS says that the move promotes 'the dignity of human life'

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that it will stop funding any stem cell research that uses human fetal tissue from elective abortions. The department said, "Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump's administration."

What's the background?

This decision comes more than nine months after HHS began a review of all the research it funded "involving human fetal tissue from elective abortions ... in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved."

While fetal tissue samples used in research cannot be from babies specifically aborted for the purposes of providing those samples, undercover videos taken at Planned Parenthood in 2015 that showed Planned Parenthood workers planning to sell aborted babies for profit caused outcry from the pro-life community.

HHS did not end funding for stem cell research

The change in policy does not pull funding from studies that use stem cells from other sources such as umbilical cords. It also does not appear to affect any studies that use fetal tissue not harvested from an elective abortion.

Any projects conducted by universities using tissue from aborted babies that have already been approved will not have their funding cut. This new ruling will also not prevent privately funded research from using tissue samples harvested from abortions.

There could be exceptions

There's also still a chance that some of these research projects could still receive partial government funding. HHS said that any "new extramural research grant applications or current research projects in the competitive renewal process" that planned to use "fetal tissue from elective abortions" would have to appeal their case to an ethics advisory board.

It is not clear from the HHS announcement what criteria would have to be met for a research project using aborted fetal tissue in order to get approval from this ethics advisory board.

HHS will help researchers try to find alternatives

In a statement announcing the move, HHS said that it was "continuing to review whether adequate alternatives exist to the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions in HHS-funded research and will ensure that efforts to develop such alternatives are funded and accelerated."

As an example of this, the department noted that it had devoted $20 million in December to finding acceptable alternatives to human fetal tissue for research..

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