Pro-choice signs are seen during the March for Life 2016, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Jan. 22, 2016.
Photo by Alex Brandon/AP

Another step backwards: Trump sharply curtails fetal-tissue research

Updated

There is no medical or scientific reason to curtail fetal-tissue research, but as the New York Times reported overnight, that’s what Donald Trump’s administration has done anyway.

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that the federal government would sharply curtail federal spending on medical research that uses tissue from aborted fetuses, mainly by ending fetal-tissue research within the National Institutes of Health. […]

Besides ending N.I.H. research, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would immediately cancel a $2 million-a-year contract with the University of California, San Francisco, for research involving fetal tissue from abortions; the contract started in 2013. Other university research projects would be subject to case-by-case review.

In recent decades, this hasn’t been much of an issue, at least not at the national level. Indeed, for policymakers, it’s been a fairly easy call: after an abortion, fetal tissue can either be discarded or used in potentially life-saving medical research. Reproductive rights can be a contentious issue for a variety of reasons, but this facet of the debate seems uncomplicated.

It’s precisely why support for fetal-tissue research has been broad and bipartisan for many years. When Congress passed a law authorizing the research in 1993, the vote in the Senate was 93 to 4.

Among the 93 was a young Republican senator from Kentucky. I believe his name was Mitch McConnell.

And yet, here we are, a quarter of a century later, watching Donald Trump – a man many voters thought would be “moderate” on social issues – and his team roll back the clock with a policy that will help no one.

What’s more, the fact that this is unfolding through HHS is of particular interest.

This is the cabinet agency, after all, where Vice President Mike Pence and his culture-warrior allies are having their most significant impact. Politico had a good report on this a couple of weeks ago, noting that behind the scenes, Pence “has developed his own sphere of influence in an agency lower on Trump’s radar: Health and Human Services.”

The result has been far-right administrative moves on everything from health care protections for transgender Americans to pro-discrimination policies for health care workers to family-planning programs.

And now, the Trump/Pence HHS is sharply curtailing fetal-tissue research, too, indifferent to the consequences.

Disclosure: Given the context, I should note that my wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to fetal-tissue research.