Graphic via Tania Lil for Courier
Graphic via Tania Lil for Courier

Although he’s eager for the U.S. to develop a treatment, the president won’t allow a promising line of research to continue because it relies on fetal tissue.

Donald Trump is angling for a cure to the coronavirus outbreak, but thanks to his hardline anti-abortion stance, he’s not interested enough to allow government researchers to use fetal tissue to help fight the virus.

Fetal tissue is obtained with the consent of people who have abortions, making it a frequent target of anti-abortion politicians.

A government immunologist at a National Institutes of Health laboratory has been asking the NIH to lift the ban on fetal tissue research during the pandemic. The Trump administration imposed that ban last year, despite the fact that fetal tissue research is vital.

Trump is very eager to show the world that the United States has a vaccine for the coronavirus. He reportedly tried to get a German company to make a vaccine for America only, an effort the German government wholeheartedly rejected.

On Thursday, he did a press conference where he bragged about a potential vaccine, a claim the FDA had to immediately rebut, noting that it hasn’t approved the drug for that use.

But the one thing he won’t do, apparently, is allow a promising line of research to continue because it relies on fetal tissue.

Researchers who spoke to the Washington Post explained that nongovernmental scientists have made significant strides using fetal tissue in research on coronaviruses similar to COVID-19. Those researchers have offered to work with the NIH to infect to run experiments on potential treatments.

However, none of that can happen because one of Trump’s key goals is appeasing anti-abortion hardliners. That was evident from his choice of Mike Pence as his running mate, and together he and Pence have decimated abortion access,  including barring Title X federal funds going to any organization that even discusses abortion with patients.

High-profile anti-abortion groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List have gotten unprecedented access to the White House to push a radical anti-abortion agenda. This underpins the recent campaign by Trump and Republican lawmakers to promote lies about later abortions being akin to “infanticide,” along with the recent flurry of “abortion survivor protection” bills meant to threaten doctors who perform the procedure.

In actuality, fetal tissue research is highly regulated. The National Institutes of Health provides guidance on how fetal tissue may be obtained and used. There are federal laws that specifically prohibit acquiring or transferring any fetal tissue for profit. Anyone that supplies fetal tissue has to show that informed consent was obtained when the tissue is collected.

Using fetal tissue isn’t a new idea. Researchers have used it since the 1930s and fetal tissue led to developing a polio vaccine. It’s also been used to test the efficacy of the German measles vaccine.

In an ironic twist, fetal tissue is also used to help understand fetal development, and may ultimately result in a decrease in miscarriages. Fetal tissue has been used in research to help treat immune system mismatches between the mother and fetus, detect genetic and metabolic diseases in the fetus, and to help develop techniques to treat hypertension and heart disease in mothers.

However, in June of last year, the Health and Human Services Department abruptly ended the ability of scientists to use fetal tissue in medical research. Those researchers were looking into diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s — diseases that affect millions of Americans.

Now, Trump’s anti-abortion obsession is blocking research into a cure for a deadly pandemic.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.