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University Officials, Anti-Abortion Advocates Weigh In On State's Fetal Tissue Laws

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

Last year a series of secretly taped and heavily edited videos were released showing Planned Parenthood officials appearing to discuss the sale of fetal tissue harvested from abortions. Those videos have since been discredited, but that hasn't stopped Republican leaders in the Texas Legislature from calling a series of hearings to review the state's rules for the use of fetal tissue. 

At a hearing this morning, lawmakers talked about the need to review informed consent laws for people donating fetal tissue during elective abortions and miscarriages — specifically, reviewing laws and practices when it comes to fetal tissue research.

After hearing from anti-abortion activists, university officials and state health officials, House State Affairs Chair Byron Cook said he was interested in reviewing laws that make sure fetal tissue procurement organizations are getting informed consent from the women donating the tissue.

“It causes me to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t be looking at the utilization of tissue from miscarriages as opposed to tissue from elective abortions,” he said.  “We are going to have to give thought, in my opinion, to the informed consent to make sure that it’s at an ethical standard that everybody can feel comfortable with.”

According to officials from Texas Tech and the UT System, informed consent for both is already common practice, especially in the university system.

“We think that things are working well right now,” said Ray Greenberg, the Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for the UT System.

Greenberg said he wouldn’t be opposed, though, if common practice would be required across the board by state law.

“I certainly think that making sure that the companies that are procuring [fetal tissue] and the sites from which they are procuring it are complying with all appropriate laws is something that we would support,” he said.

But Dr. Peter Rotwein, Chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Texas Tech in El Paso, said third parties already follow federal and state guidelines for informed consent.

“I think it’s their requirement to stay within the laws here,” he said.

Both Greenberg and Rotwein told the panel that universities in the state, for the most part, procure fetal tissue from a nonprofit company in California.

The hearing did little to clear up exactly what proposed changes the state should make to its laws.  Anti-abortion advocates who testified asked that lawmakers consider a ban on all medical research using fetal tissue from abortions, citing moral concerns.

Right now, Texas has limited restrictions on fetal tissue research. As a result, there is a range of research in Texas, Greenberg testified, looking into infectious diseases.

“Some highlights of this work include the Galveston national laboratory at UT medical branch, with some of the world’s leading experts on emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika virus. It’s clear to all of us here that this work is critical to protecting the health and well being of the citizens of Texas and beyond."

Rotwein said at Texas Tech there has been an ongoing study of HIV using fetal tissue, funded by a federal grant.

The legislature won’t meet to consider actual legislation until January next year.

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