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Republican Legislators Are Coming for Universities After Planned Parenthood

Eight states have advanced bills that would defund labs that conduct research with fetal tissue.

Members of the United States Congress are currently using a heavily edited and misleading video as an excuse to defund Planned Parenthood. Now, Republican legislators at the state level are also jumping on the bandwagon. Rather than targeting Planned Parenthood, however, they’re targeting the university labs that use fetal tissue in their research.

According to Politico, since the Planned Parenthood debacle reignited this summer, eight states have advanced bills that would either defund labs that conduct research with fetal tissue or ban the practice altogether.

It’s weird to see fetal tissue legislation reemerge now. Though similar laws were passed decades ago, many were subsequently struck down after challenges in court. As we’ve seen a lot lately, though, Republicans aren’t afraid to take stands on issues that will appeal to their base that judges might later deem unconstitutional.

For example, Wisconsin State Representative Andre Jacque has already tried twice to introduce bills that ban fetal tissue research, to no success. Now that fetal tissue is the topic du jour, however, Jacque’s conservative peers are throwing their support behind his latest attempt. He expects to have enough votes to pass the bill in Wisconsin before the end of the month.

It’ll be a shame if it does pass since fetal tissue is on the forefront of all sorts of medical research. As NPR reports, labs are currently using fetal tissue to find cures and treatments for AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, autism, schizophrenia, blindness and various birth defects. Moreover, because fetal tissue is “versatile” and has a longer shelf life, it has a greater use in labs than adult tissue does.

Singling out research is a roundabout way to attack abortion. By the legislators’ own admission, these bills would do nothing to decrease the number of abortions performed. It’s hard to imagine many women opting to carry a fetus to term after discovering the tissue wouldn’t be used for research. Still, it’s a way for lawmakers to take a stand on something related to abortion that will appeal to the anti-choice crowd.

Many scientists have intentionally stayed out of the attack on Planned Parenthood, afraid that speaking up would put funding for their own research at risk. Now state legislators are dragging them into the battle anyway. If these laws are passed, it is likely that a lot of important university research will be halted.

“This is a debate about abortion, not fetal tissue research,” said Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin. “That’s just an excuse. If you were to show pictures of cadavers – of what we do when we take out their bones, take out their organs, it would be equally hard. These images are just hard.”

At this point, the war on science and the war on women are interlocked. If conservative politicians cannot outlaw abortion directly, they’re content to shut down anything they can that’s tangentially related to the practice. Unfortunately, we’ll all be worse off if laboratories conducting this research are no longer permitted to conduct their experiments.

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