February 20, 2020 Press Release


February 20, 2020

Contact:  Mary Alice Carter


(646) 326 - 4238


Watchdog Group Wary That New HHS Advisory Board Will Further Undermine Science and Evidence  

Anti-abortion groups, not scientists, are guiding research decisions

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services noticed a call for nominations to the newly formed NIH Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board. The stated purpose is to provide guidance to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on which studies that rely on fetal tissue, if any, should receive NIH funds. 

HHS stopped funding research that involved fetal tissue nine months ago, at the behest of the anti-aboriton lobby and against the advice and pleas of dozens of medical and research organizations. At that time, HHS citing ambiguous questions about ethics and announced that they would form this advisory board to review studies. However, today's notice reveals that the board only requires one ethicist sit on the panel and that “no more than one-half of the appointed members will be scientists with substantial accomplishments in biomedical or behavioral research.” 

Mary Alice Carter, Senior Advisor, Equity Forward said, “Nine months ago HHS made an abrupt and ill advised decision when it pulled funding for certain NIH research at the behest of the anti-abortion lobby.  Since then, studies have been halted and progress has been lost.

Will this board be stacked to the rafters with those who oppose science and base decisions on political ideology, similar to HHS leadership? We have little reason to believe that this will be an unbiased panel that takes into account true medical research but relies on support of the Administration’s most dogmatic officials. This has been the means of instituting policy by HHS since the beginning of this Administration.”

Fetal tissue research is used to address numerous health concerns. Before the ban, NIH was funding approximately $100 million on research that relies on fetal tissue through grants to more than 50 universities. Discovery of the polio and rubella vaccines were developed from human fetal kidney cells. Without discovery of the polio vaccine, it’s estimated polio would kill 640,000 people each year. Fetal tissue research was critical to the development of a potential Ebola vaccine. Fetal tissue is being used to develop treatment for a range of diseases and conditions affecting millions of people including: autism, ALS, Alzheimers, asthma, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, organ failure, parkinson’s and spinal cord injury.  


 Equity Forward is a watchdog project that seeks to ensure transparency and accountability among anti-reproductive health groups and individuals who are actively working to deny people access to services such as birth control and abortion. We are a staff of researchers, lawyers and communications professionals that uses research to inform reports and campaigns to effectively reduce or eliminate the damaging work of anti-reproductive health forces.