Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET
The Trump administration is placing new restrictions on the use of human fetal tissue in medical research. Federal scientists working at the National Institutes of Health will be prohibited from obtaining new tissue samples from elective abortions for ongoing research projects at the NIH.
Abortion rights opponents hailed the move as a first step toward a complete ban on the use of human fetal tissue in research.
It was not immediately clear how many projects would be affected by the new restrictions. Research at universities and work that is privately funded will be allowed to continue.
The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Wednesday that “promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration.”
“Fetal tissue taken from elective abortions have been used in research over many years,” NPR’s Richard Harris reports. “The practice has been replaced in many cases as biologists found better ways to produce human cells with similar properties. But researchers have continued to use fetal tissue to produce mice with human-like immune systems. Now the Department of Health and Human Services says it will stop funding that project.”
Research projects funded by NIH grants that are ongoing at universities can continue, HHS said. But any researchers who want to renew those projects or apply for new grants involving fetal tissue will have to undergo a review by an ethics advisory board, the agency said.
“This is a major pro-life victory and we thank President Trump for taking decisive action,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion rights group the Susan B. Anthony List.
The new limits come months after the Trump administration reportedly told the NIH last fall to stop acquiring fetal tissue.
Scientists say the use of fetal tissue could help research in areas from antiviral HIV drugs to cancer. But abortion rights opponents say that using fetal tissue is an affront to human dignity.
Health and Human Services says its decision follows a review that began last September of all government research projects involving fetal tissue.
As a result of the review, HHS said, it canceled a research contract with the University of California, San Francisco — a contract that previously had been renewed annually and later in 90-day increments. The final contact extension ends on June 5, the agency said.
The health services department adds that it “is continuing to review whether adequate alternatives exist to the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions in HHS-funded research and will ensure that efforts to develop such alternatives are funded and accelerated.”