In a familiar piece of news from our present dystopia, the Trump administration announced Wednesday that it was introducing restrictions on fetal tissue research, including a ban on such research conducted within the National Institutes of Health, and an increased review process for outside researchers. Eliminating fetal tissue research, which uses leftover biological material from elective abortions, has long been a goal among staunch anti-abortion activists, despite the overwhelming benefits that the material provides scientists.
Now, the Washington Post has released a report with details from Trump’s meeting with the Department of Health and Human Services, which suggest that the president introduced the policy against the wishes of senior science advisors—and at the behest of Vice President Mike Pence. Per the Post,
The president’s top health and science aides had been arguing that ending the funding could disrupt valuable research, trigger lawsuits and place the values of abortion opponents above those of scientists.
Over the opposition of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was in the room, the president chose the course advocated by his political advisers and Vice President Pence: to end the work of government researchers and impose restrictions on funding for universities and other outside labs. Taking a tough stance on fetal tissue research appealed to Trump, who saw it as a way to burnish his antiabortion credentials for his reelection campaign.
Always good to listen to Mike Pence, scientist!
Before these most recent restrictions, there were signs the Trump administration was moving to introduce barriers to the field—including an audit held last year which required researchers to listen to conservatives and investigate whether alternative materials that could be used. According to the Post, Azar recommended an extension of this policy, a waiting period for scientists to search for a similar material which could work as a substitute.
But President Trump, who in advance of re-election is heavily courting the religious right and other anti-abortion facets of the Republican Party, was keen to introduce increased restrictions.
“The concrete effects [of the White House’s decision] are they are taking a scientific process and throwing it out the window,” as one researcher told the Post. But it’s also a chilling statement of how heavily the president anticipates that targeting abortion will motivate voters.