Biden administration reverses Trump restrictions on fetal tissue research

The Biden administration on Friday moved to unwind strict Trump-era restrictions on federal-funded medical research using fetal tissue obtained by abortions, reversing policies that scientists warned would devastate the development of treatments for a broad range of diseases.

The Trump administration, under pressure from allied anti-abortion groups, ended fetal tissue research at the National Institutes of Health and established an ethics board to review government support for the research at universities and other labs. The board, which was filled with critics of the research, met just once and rejected 13 of 14 projects that NIH scientists had deemed worthy of support.

The Trump administration had announced its policy in 2019 after a long internal battle between political appointees and career scientists, who argued that the research was essential and conducted ethically.

Medical groups urged Biden to reverse the ban shortly after he took office, saying that it left “highly worthy, scientifically meritorious research” unfunded and created a chilling effect on the broader scientific community. Fetal tissue research has been used in the development of numerous vaccines and treatments, including for Parkinson’s, HIV and Covid-19.

The new policy states that the ethics board will no longer be convened but stresses that researchers have to obtain consent from the donor of the fetal tissue, can’t pay for it and must follow any state laws governing the practice.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra during a House hearing on Thursday previewed and defended the reversal of the Trump policies.

“We believe that we have to do the research it takes to make sure that we are incorporating innovation and getting all of those types of treatments and therapies out there to the American people,” he said.

Anti-abortion groups decried the policy change and vowed to make it an issue in their campaign to flip control of the House of Representatives and Senate in the midterm elections.

“Pro-abortion Democrats push this deeply unpopular agenda at their own political peril,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.


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