Officials of the nation’s leading universities have watched with dread as the fallout from the Planned Parenthood sting videos has threatened to engulf labs that depend on fetal tissue Planned Parenthood sting videos for research.
Now the abortion wars are raging on their doorsteps as lawmakers in Wisconsin and Ohio try to ban such research and other states limit access to the tissue. More than three dozen of the universities, including Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins, have been drawn into the fight despite their traditional deep aversion to an issue that can divide faculties and donors and draw the ire of anti-abortion advocates nationwide.
“My faculty and I were linked to Nazi war criminals — really ugly stuff,” said Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine describing a state Assembly hearing on a bill that would make research on aborted fetuses a felony. “It’s the first time this has ever gotten any intense attention — it’s also never gotten as nasty and personal before,”
It’s also dredged up comparisons between researchers who use fetal tissue from aborted fetuses and the perpetrators of now-infamous abuses like the Tuskegee experiments that studied untreated syphilis in black men
“This really isn’t about science,” said Dr. Edward Halperin, chancellor and CEO of New York Medical College, where researchers use the tissue to develop vaccines. “This is really people making a point about abortion and it’s outrageous.”
While the uproar on Capitol Hill has focused on eliminating federal funding for the women’s health clinics, the Wisconsin bill, which gained traction this summer, and another in Ohio would criminalize the research that has been mostly shielded from battles over abortion for more than 20 years.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a pro-business group, and BioForward Wisconsin, a biotech trade group, are opposing the bill, along with the medical research community.
Golden is urging moderate Republicans in the state to develop an alternative that would address concerns about profiteering and potential relationships between abortion providers and the scientists conducting the experiments — and take the research ban off the table.
If the ban were to become law, “the domino effect is those scientists, whose life work it is, will pick up and leave,” he said. “You can only imagine what it means to attract new scientists here, if the government is going to step in and outlaw a certain kind of research. What’s next?”