The House voted Thursday to block the Trump administration’s move to end human fetal tissue research by government scientists, a direct challenge to the White House that will be tested in the Republican-led Senate.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, sponsored the amendment to a sweeping spending bill. The amendment targets President Trump’s policy requiring federally funded research using fetal tissue from elective abortions to undergo separate screenings by an ethics advisory board. Pocan’s measure restricted funding to set up such panels.
The amendment passed 225 to 193, largely along party lines with all Republicans and three antiabortion Democrats — Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Ben McAdams (Utah) and Collin C. Peterson (Minn.) — voting against it.
“I get it. You’ve got to make your base happy, especially in the era of Donald Trump,” Pocan said during House debate. “But the bottom line is, you are hurting your constituents by trying to place politics over medical science. That’s just a really bad idea.”
The president reportedly had his political base in mind when he made the decision on June 5 to restrict federal funding for fetal tissue research, ignoring pushback from health and science aides in the administration who argued the importance of such research, The Washington Post reported.
“The administration’s decision to forgo to develop treatments, cures for diseases, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s — this is once again putting personal ideology ahead of public health,” Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) said on the House floor.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) spoke on behalf of GOP dissent to the amendment, challenging that even if some research “might benefit from fetal tissue” that doesn’t mean the ethics shouldn’t be considered.
“How can we stand in good conscience and say we’re going to take . . . one of the most controversial areas of research and wall it off and say the federal government can’t consider ethics?” Harris said.
The International Society for Stem Cell Research, a coalition of universities and patient advocacy groups, sent a letter to Pocan and the other nine Democratic sponsors of the amendment on Tuesday.
“The existing legal and ethical frameworks for fetal tissue research provide rigorous and appropriate oversight, ensuring that the tissue is obtained legally and with donor consent,” they wrote. “We are concerned about the potential chilling effect of this policy on biomedical research.”
It remains uncertain whether the provision will survive as the Senate considers its version of the spending bill and lawmakers negotiate overall budget legislation ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.