State Republicans renew effort to ban fetal tissue research


Republican state lawmakers are renewing their push to ban research on aborted fetal tissue in Wisconsin.

Three Republican lawmakers quietly circulated a bill on Feb. 7 that would prohibit the sale and research of fetal tissue starting in 2018. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the measure would essentially duplicate federal law in Wisconsin. But anti-choice groups said the proposal doesn’t go far enough.

At least two stronger proposals also are in the works. The two are similar to efforts that private and university researchers have blocked during the past six years, saying they would impede progress in fighting cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, among other diseases.

Those against a ban also say it would destroy biomedical research in the state, greatly harming the state’s economy. In 2015, such research had brought more than $75 million in federal grants to the state, helping to launch and sustain biomedical companies that provide high-paying jobs.

Cures for Tomorrow, a coalition of Wisconsin academic research institutions, bioscience-related trade groups and health care providers, said given federal law and policies governing the use of fetal tissue and cells “we strongly believe that no additional regulation by the State of Wisconsin is needed.”

Compromise “not going to be easy”

“It’s not going to be easy to come up with a compromise,” Fitzgerald told reporters.

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Wisconsin Family Action, Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life comprise a coalition that urged lawmakers not to sign on to the bill that mirrors federal restrictions. They say it’s “complex and ambiguous,” with numerous exemptions that would allow universities, clinics and others to evade the research prohibition.

The coalition is working on alternative proposals that it says will end the sale and use of fetal tissue body parts obtained from abortions.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said he’s working on a bill that would do more to ensure no newly aborted fetal tissue is being used for testing, something he said wouldn’t be shut down under the measure circulating now. Republican Rep. Andre Jacque, who is also opposed to the current bill, said it would “have no real effect” on stopping the sale of fetal tissue.

The coalition includes the Medical College of Wisconsin, UW Health, UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

University of Wisconsin System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said in an email that the system was reviewing the bill and “will work with all of our research institutions to determine how this may affect the critical research occurring on their campus. We urge the legislature to carefully consider how any additional regulatory actions may impact that research before moving forward.”