Communications Department

NRLC memo: 1993 act of Congress, not President Bush, responsible for fetal tissue project

Jul 10, 2002 | Killing Embryos

By Douglas Johnson
NRLC Legislative Director
July 10, 2002

On July 7, the Chicago Tribune published a page 1 story headlined, “U.S. quietly OKs fetal stem cell work.” The gist of the story was that the Bush Administration “quietly in late May” approved “the first federally funded project using stem cells obtained from fetuses aborted up to eight weeks after conception.” Specifically, the story reported that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $150,000 to John Gearhart at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to study two insulin-producing stem cell lines for potential applications in transplantation therapies for persons with diabetes.

In a speech on August 9, 2001, President Bush announced that he would not allow federal funding of any research on stem cells obtained by killing human embryos after that date. The Tribune reporter, Jeremy Manier, wrote that the newly approved research on tissue obtained from aborted fetuses “falls under less-restrictive Clinton-era rules, which Bush never revised.” In short, the story created the impression that President Bush had some authority to prevent this particular use of federal funds.

But that premise is untrue. Federal funding of transplantation research using fetal tissue is governed not merely by “Clinton-era rules,” but by an act of Congress enacted in 1993, which removed this matter from the authority of the President and his appointees.

The administrations of Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush refused to fund transplantation research using tissue taken from abortion victims. NRLC strongly supported this pro-life policy. Over time, lopsided support developed in Congress to overturn the ban — in 1992, President Bush actually had to veto an entire NIH reauthorization bill to prevent the pro-life policy from being overturned. But once Clinton took office in January 1993, it was no longer possible to block enactment of such legislation.

The NIH reauthorization bill enacted June 10, 1993 (Public Law 103-43) explicitly removed authority from the President and his appointees to block transplantation research using fetal tissue from induced abortions. You can read the entire law here:

Note especially Section 113, which says that “no official of the executive branch [this includes the President] may impose a policy that the Department of Health and Human Services is prohibited from conducting or supporting any research on the transplantation of human fetal tissue for therapeutic purposes.” The law also provides that “in the case of any proposal for research on the transplantation of human fetal tissue for therapeutic purposes, the Secretary of Health and Human Services may not withhold funds for the research” if it meets the technical requirements spelled out in the law.

Note, however, that NIH may conduct or fund such research only “in accordance with applicable State law.”

Since enactment of the 1993 law, NIH has funded many experiments involving fetal tissue from induced abortions. The only thing new about the project reported in the Tribune is that it involves stem cells, but it is still covered by the 1993 law.

In 1997, pro-life Senator Dan Coats (R-In.) offered an amendment to prohibit the use of fetal tissue from induced abortions in a bill providing expanded funding for research into Parkinson’s disease. NRLC supported this amendment, but the Senate rejected it 38-60.

Categories: Killing Embryos