Senate panel seeks middle ground on human fetal tissue research and abortion

Science – A Senate spending panel yesterday countered a move by its House of Representatives counterpart to quash federal funding for research that uses human fetal tissue from elective abortions. The move sets up a conflict that will need to be resolved when lawmakers meet later this year to hash out differences between the House and Senate bills, which will provide funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the 2018 fiscal year that begins on 1 October.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, in a bill that boosts NIH funding by $2 billion, to $36.1 billion, ordered the biomedical research agency to launch a pilot study to determine whether banking tissue from stillbirths and spontaneous abortions, or miscarriages, could serve all of the needs of biomedical researchers. The bill orders NIH to model its program on an NIH initiative that, 25 years ago, sought to assess the quality and quantity of such tissue as a first step in establishing a national network of banks of tissue from spontaneous abortions.

How researchers obtain human fetal tissue—which is used to study infectious diseases, eye maladies, normal and abnormal fetal development, and other illnesses—has long been a political flashpoint. Those opposed to abortion have for decades sought to ban the use of federal funds for studies that use fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan placed a de facto moratorium on the use of tissue from elective abortions, which President Bill Clinton lifted in 1993; Congress legalized funding for such research the same year.

Read more at Science.