Trump admin to cease use of fetal tissue in government research

PHOTO: The US Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, DC, July 21, 2007.PlaySaul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH HHS prohibits fetal tissue for government research

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced it is suspending the use of fetal tissue in research conducted by government scientists and said it is ending a contract with a California university over its use of the materials.

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"Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration," said the announcement from the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the use of fetal tissue for research in the United States dates back to the 1930s and has been used by the National Institutes of Health since the 1950s. Among a variety of medical research uses, fetal tissue is obtained through elective abortions and has been used to help develop vaccines against diseases like measles and polio, the CRS said.

University of California, San Francisco, Chancellor Sam Hawgood called the move "politically motivated, shortsighted and not based on sound science," and noted that it ended a "30-year partnership with the NIH to use specially designed models that could be developed only through the use of fetal tissue to find a cure for HIV."

"UCSF strongly opposes today’s abrupt decision by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to discontinue intramural fetal tissue research by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)," he said in a statement. "The efforts by the administration to impede this work will undermine scientific discovery and the ability to find effective treatments for serious and life-threatening disease."

The announcement was applauded by anti-abortion advocates, including Susan B. Anthony’s List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, who called it a “major pro-life victory.”

“President Trump knows we can do better as a nation and we are encouraged to see NIH Director Francis Collins carry out the President’s pro-life commitment," Dannenfelser said.

This move follows a review conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services which looked at "all HHS research involving human fetal tissue from elective abortions," according to the announcement.

PHOTO: The US Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, DC, July 21, 2007. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
The US Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, DC, July 21, 2007.

As a result of the review, the administration is letting its contract with the University of California, San Francisco expire on Wednesday. The contract was for "research involving human fetal tissue from elective abortions," the agency said.

"The audit and review helped inform the policy process that led to the administration’s decision to let the contract with UCSF expire and to discontinue intramural research – research conducted within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – involving the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortion," HHS said.

Last year, HHS said it was giving $20 million to research alternative methods to using fetal tissue in its research and, according to the agency, HHS will continue to do so, saying that they are "committed to providing additional funding to support the development and validation of alternative models."

ABC News reported last year that the move to eliminate the use of fetal tissue in research could set up a potential clash between the White House and House Democrats, who said at the time they weren’t convinced there was an alternative to fetal tissue that would suffice.

On Wednesday, the chaiman of the House Health subcommittee, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said in a statement that the decision "puts politics over progress."

"Research using fetal tissue has led to numerous vaccines and treatments that have saved millions of lives," Eshoo said. "The Administration’s move to cut federal research, including the cancelation of UCSF’s HIV research contract, jeopardizes new cures for patients. This backward decision is another blow against science from the Trump Administration.”

ABC News' Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.