The Trump administration is ending medical research by government scientists using human foetal tissue, a victory for abortion foes despite impassioned pleas from scientists that some health problems cannot be studied any other way.
Research using foetal tissue that would otherwise be discarded has been funded by the government, under leadership of both political parties, for decades — and has led to life-saving advances including development of vaccines for rubella and rabies, and drugs for the HIV virus.
Officials said government-sponsored research by universities will be allowed to continue, subject to additional scrutiny, but research at the National Institutes of Health involving foetal tissue from elective abortion would not be allowed to proceed.
The policy change will not affect privately funded research that uses human foetal tissue.
“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
Ending its use is a priority for anti-abortion activists, a core element of Donald Trump’s political base.
The president casts himself as “strongly pro-life”, and his administration has taken many steps to restrict access to abortion, which remains a legal medical procedure.
Mr Trump has nominated federal judges who oppose abortion, attempted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, and expanded legal protection for medical providers who object to abortion.
Critics argue that modern science has alternatives to replace foetal tissue in the laboratory, such as using tissue from infants who undergo heart surgery or stem cells that grow into organ-like clumps in lab dishes.
But leading scientific groups say there are still conditions where foetal tissue is the best, or even the only, option to get clear answers to some devastating disorders — because the substitutes do not act the same as tissue from the exact developmental stage that needs to be studied.