Wisconsin Republicans clash over fetal tissue bills

By CARA LOMBARDO, Associated Press

Republican Wisconsin lawmakers who for years have sought to ban the use of aborted fetal tissue in the state are now bickering over what to do. Two GOP factions have formed in the Legislature.

One supports banning the use of aborted fetal tissue outright — an approach that has the backing of anti-abortion groups. The other wants a more limited effort that targets just the sale of fetal tissue — an approach that supporters believe could get attract enough votes to garner passage.

Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Cindy Duchow, both Republicans, last month introduced a bill that would ban the sale of aborted fetal body parts but not prohibit using them in research.

Fifteen Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, signed onto that measure.

But some Republicans and anti-abortion groups say the bill is ineffective and duplicates federal law.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch and Sen. Terry Moulton circulated a bill this past week that would ban research on fetal tissue from abortions performed after Jan. 1, 2017.

The two also circulated a bill requiring medical facilities to give mothers of babies that are stillborn or miscarried at the facility the option of donating their remains to research, which they say establishes an alternative source of fetal tissue for researchers.

Rep. Andre Jacque, one of seven Republicans who are co-sponsoring the more stringent effort, said he expects it to get “significantly more” support than the proposal from Darling and Duchow. Kleefisch said both bills could pass.

A group of four Wisconsin anti-abortion organizations has urged legislators to reject the bill from Darling and Duchow but supports the proposals from Kleefisch and Moulton.

The two approaches have some overlap. Neither would outlaw the continued use of cells from a fetus aborted in 1970, which previous proposals had targeted.

Both would require facilities that provide abortions to dispose of fetal remains through burial or cremation. And both would face fervent opposition from university researchers and Democrats.

“The ban would be devastating to the remarkable opportunity we have to develop new, lifesaving vaccines, therapies and cures that will benefit patients across Wisconsin,” Cures for Tomorrow, a research coalition that includes UW-Madison said in a statement about Kleefisch’s bill.

The coalition, which also includes the Medical College of Wisconsin, UW Health and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, previously said it does not support additional regulation on fetal tissue research.

“Lifesaving medical research in Wisconsin already follows the highest level of ethical standards and federal laws regarding tissue donation,” Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. “Rather than blocking lifesaving research and outsourcing Wisconsin jobs, we should be building on our state’s strong reputation as a leader in cutting edge bioscience and medical breakthroughs.”