Aggressive state efforts to ban the use of fetal tissue in research are alarming some scientists who say such measures will set back efforts to cure the world’s deadliest diseases, including cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
But lawmakers in states like California and Wisconsin, which are deliberating whether to make their state laws even tougher than federal restrictions, say ending the practice of harvesting organs from aborted fetuses is a moral and ethical imperative.
They say the summer release of nine undercover videos featuring Planned Parenthood representatives and others talking candidly about obtaining and transferring fetal body parts to laboratories has sparked outrage among their constituencies, and has “pulled back the curtain” on what they say is a gruesome business.
“There’s a lot of outrage and I think certainly a lot of strong feelings (in the General Assembly) similar to what we are hearing from our constituencies. They want this to stop and the videos are certainly what’s forcing that,” said Wisconsin Republican state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, who is also the majority leader.
He is helping to shepherd a bill through the Republican-dominated legislature that would not only prohibit the sale of fetal body parts – which is already banned under federal law – but would also demand that “no person may knowingly and for valuable consideration acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer a fetal body part.”
In addition, it would ban all use of fetal tissue from abortions for experimentation.
Andre Jacque, the Republican general assembly member who introduced the bill, said the language would close what he calls a loophole through which Planned Parenthood has accepted “fees” and other monetary compensation in return for extracting and delivering the tissue. A similar bill has been introduced in Illinois, and in California by Republican state Assemblyman Jim Patterson.
His bill would not only end the practice of clinics taking money in the form of fees and costs in exchange for organs, but would defund any Planned Parenthood clinic that provides fetal organs for research. He told FoxNews.com that the state funding for Planned Parenthood totals about $230 million a year.
According to a September report by The Hill, the number of clinics that provide fetal tissue for medical research is down to two from six over the last month.
“What these Planned Parenthood videos have demonstrated is a very slippery slope to an immoral landscape,” Patterson told FoxNews.com. “Anyone with any heart and soul who has seen these videos would have to come out and say with conviction that this is not the society we want to be.”
Planned Parenthood has responded to these charges by saying the videos are "heavily edited," and "significantly distort and misrepresent" actual events.
In response to Patterson's bill, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President and CEO Kathy Kneer said, "There is no reason for the so-called Fetal Tissue Exploitation Prevention Act, and absolutely no reason to defund Planned Parenthood. For the two affiliates in California that currently offer their patients the opportunity to participate in a tissue donation program, Planned Parenthood has followed all federal and state laws and operates under the strictest ethical procedures."
Patterson's bill, along with another bill to defund Planned Parenthood, was not taken up in the current session of the California State Assembly, but Patterson said he plans to reintroduce it in January. While a similar defunding measure has also foundered on Capitol Hill, university research facilities are becoming wary about what they see as a threat to legitimate research.
“There is no doubt about the potential life-saving value of fetal tissue in advancing medical progress,” said Dean Robert Golden of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and his counterpart, Dr. John Raymond of the Medical College of Wisconsin, in a recent op-ed.
The university has been active in arguing against Jacque’s bill. The large bio-health industry and the local Chamber of Commerce are also opposed.A letter opposing the Wisconsin measure was signed by 700 members of the university faculty.
Fetal cells, the men argued in the op-ed, are now used to make vaccines for rubella, shingles, chickenpox and other diseases “that cripple and kill children and adults.” Under the Jacque bill, the “cells that might have provided a pathway to a cure will be discarded,” they added. “And people who need effective treatments will go without help.”
Lobbying has so far bought the medical science industry one exemption: researchers will continue to have access to existing cell lines, some harvested decades ago, according to an amendment to the bill, which is making its way through the State Assembly and has a good chance of passing and crossing the desk of pro-life Gov. Scott Walker, also a candidate for president. Any tissue harvested from abortions after January 1, 2015 will be off limits, however.
But that amendment is not enough, according to a statement from the university medical program, which said it would still “be a felony for researchers in Wisconsin to develop any new cell lines or use those other scientists may create. This would limit the ability of scientists in the state to work with the latest technologies to help advance scientific progress and find cures and treatments for patients.”
In July, Colorado State University suspended further acquisition of fetal tissue from Stem Express or any other vendors implicated in the Planned Parenthood videos and subsequent investigation on Capitol Hill. University president Tony Frank, according to the Coloradoan newspaper, said he was implementing a recommendation by the school’s bioethics committee to seek alternatives to those fetal tissue sources. The decision followed an accusation, which the school said was not true, that the university had purchased body parts from Stem Express.
The Wisconsin Technology Council says the issue has put legitimate research and the growing bio tech industry in the state at risk. In a statement released on August 31, the association said academic researchers have been conducting work under “the surveillance of ethical and scientific oversight organizations” and have been following federal law. Burdensome new regulations will hinder progress, and drive business to other states, the statement said.
Jacque said he is in the fight for the long-haul and believes this is about morals, not business. “I think it comes down to respect for human dignity.”
FoxNews.com's Kelley Vlahos contributed to this report.