Republicans tweak fetal tissue bill to allow some research

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Associated Press
September 4, 2015

MADISON — Republicans working on a bill that would prohibit research using tissue from aborted fetuses announced Friday they've amended the measure to allow some scientific work but University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists say the move doesn't go nearly far enough.

The original bill would outlaw selling, donating and experimenting with cells, tissues, organs or other fetal body parts. Anyone who violates the ban would be charged with a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and $50,000 in fines. The bill's authors, Reps. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, and Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said they've tweaked it to permit research on tissue from fetuses aborted before Jan. 1, 2015.

The two lawmakers said in a news release the move would allow research to continue on widely used cell lines from the 1960s and 1970s and assuage scientists' concerns that the bill would end their work.

"I think this is a fair approach; one, I think, we all can live with," Kleefisch said in the release.

The bill has drawn support from abortion providers who have compared research on aborted fetal tissue to Nazi experiments. But UW-Madison researchers as well as scientists in the private sector argue the bill could jeopardize ongoing research into cancer, Alzheimer's and other diseases as well as put millions of dollars in research funding and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

Marsha Mailick, UW-Madison's vice chancellor for research and graduate education, said in a statement Friday that all cell lines are unique and using existing lines can't substitute for new lines created in the future.

"Setting a 2015 sunset would close the door on countless treatments and cures and put our scientists and state biomedical industry at tremendous disadvantage," she said. "It would be unethical not to use such tissue to save lives."

Kleefisch and Jacque introduced the bill in the wake of recently released undercover videos that show a medical director at a Planned Parenthood facility in southern California meeting with people posing as potential buyers of intact fetuses. The videos raised questions about whether Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood has denied making any profit and said its fees go only to cover its costs. Federal law bars the commercial sale of fetal tissue but allows not-for-profit tissue donations with consent of the woman who had the abortion.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has said it doesn't offer tissue donation services. Jacque has said he wants to make sure it never can. More than 50 Republican legislators have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

Kleefisch chairs the Assembly's criminal justice committee and has scheduled a vote on the bill for Wednesday. There have been signs of a lack of support in the Senate, however. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, has said she opposed the original bill because it would halt ongoing research at UW-Madison and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, hasn't said when or whether the bill will come up.

A spokesman for Darling didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Neither did Fitzgerald's spokeswoman.

Gov. Scott Walker, who is campaigning for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, hasn't committed to supporting the measure. His state spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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