Wis. Bill Would Ban Research Involving 'Fetal Body Parts'

August 12, 2011 — Wisconsin Assembly Republicans last week introduced legislation (AB 214) that would prohibit the use of fetal body parts in research, the Madison Capital Times reports.

The bill -- introduced by Rep. Andre Jacque (R) and co-signed by 51 GOP Assembly members -- would prohibit a person from providing or using for experimentation a fetal body part. The bill defines a "fetal body part" as a cell, tissue, organ or other part of a fetus "who is aborted by an induced abortion." The bill is a top priority for Pro-Life Wisconsin.

A June 2 memo sent by Jacque to state legislators cited the importance of "respect for human dignity" in conducting medical studies and pointed to "horrific past failures to establish or follow such protocols" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the 1990s. The memo added that the bill is necessary after "UW officials who sought to open a late-term abortion clinic at the UW Surgery Center (in 2009) publicly cited the potential for induced abortions at the facility to serve as a supply of fetal body parts for UW research."

However, officials at UW-Madison and UW Health said there were no such plans and that the purpose of the proposed clinic was to provide a clinical service to women. They added that abortion services are not offered at UW Hospital or the health system's Madison Surgery Center. Any fetal tissue that is used by UW researchers is donated with patient's written and informed content, they said.

According to the Capital Times, university officials believe that a range of biomedical research by 100 or more scientists on the UW-Madison campus could be affected by the proposed legislation. Scientists said one major concern is that the bill could affect the use of induced-pluripotent stem cells, also known as adult stem cells, which were originally derived from a cell line taken from a fetus aborted in the 1970s. The Capital Times notes, "Ironically, many antiabortion groups and Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, have argued against the need to continue human embryonic stem cell research" in favor of focusing on IPS research.

A joint statement by UW-Madison and UW Health officials said, "The current legislation is worded so broadly that it will eliminate promising lines of research on campus, including studies of childhood leukemia and infectious diseases." They added, "It is important to note that federal law permits use of federal funds to support research involving fetal tissue as long as provisions of federal law are met" (Finkelmeyer, Capital Times, 8/10).