Trump administration restricts NIH funding for fetal tissue research

The Trump administration said Wednesday it is notifying the University of California that a federally funded research contract that uses fetuses from elective abortions will not be renewed -- the latest pro-life push by the administration.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a review and audit in September into federal funding of research involving fetal tissue.

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As a first step, HHS canceled a Food and Drug Administration contract over the company's use of fetal tissue. Senior administration officials told Fox News on Wednesday that as a result of the review, HHS now will be notifying the University of California, San Francisco that another contract involving research using fetuses from elective abortions will not be renewed.

The contract was the only intramural contract -- research conducted within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- that had been identified. The decision not to renew the contract will mean that the administration is no longer conducting intramural NIH-funded research with fetal body parts from elective abortions.

Extramural research grants -- for research outside of NIH institutions --  will not currently be affected during their contract period, but new applications or renewed contracts will be subjected to a strict review by an ethics review board.

An official noted there are ways of acquiring fetal tissue other than from abortions, including from cord tissue or when a thymus is removed from a child with a congenital heart defect. Officials pointed to the decision as an example of the administration’s broader pro-life agenda.

“It fits inside the wider context of the president’s pro-life agenda since he was sworn into office, So you’ve seen a consistent pattern of pro-life-focused decisions and policy decisions from the president over the last two and a half years,” an official said.

“This is consistent with that direction and there will be continued work on the pro-life agenda throughout the rest of the first term and the second term as well, and so we will always work to err on the side of life in all critical decisions that come to the Oval Office at the president’s direction,” the official said.

Pro-life groups welcomed the move by the administration, with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins calling it "another step by the Trump administration in the march to restore the sanctity of all human life in America."

"This decision is one based upon the desire of this administration to use taxpayer dollars in the pursuit of science that is both ethical and effective," he said in a statement.

The move is likely to face opposition from organizations that support abortion rights.

"Despite the president's pledge to 'end the HIV epidemic,' today's announcement poses a direct threat to crucial research to find treatments for HIV and other health threats," Megan Donovan of the Guttmacher Institute told The Associated Press. "Fetal tissue research is subject to stringent laws and regulations and has been for decades. Ideologues should not be allowed to stand in for real doctors and scientists when the government is making decisions about life-saving medicine."

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The HHS push comes amid a heated national debate on abortion. Multiple red states, including Missouri, Georgia and Alabama, have passed laws significantly restricting the ability for women to get abortions in those states -- Alabama's essentially would ban abortions. Some conservatives have eyed a potential Supreme Court challenge to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a constitutional right to an abortion.

Meanwhile, a number of Democratic states, including New York, have passed laws decreasing abortion regulations. Last week, the Illinois Senate sent to the governor’s desk legislation that establishes a woman’s “fundamental right” to an abortion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.