Proposed legislation banning research using tissue from aborted fetuses would have a devastating impact on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. That was the warning of Chancellor Rebecca Blank on Friday, who told the UW System Board of Regents that the restriction currently being considered by the Legislature could have potential impacts on the university that are “greater than anything we have discussed around budget cuts.”
The bill, which passed out of a legislative committee earlier this week, would ban research from being done in the state that uses tissue from aborted fetuses. The prohibition would only apply to tissue collected after the start of this year, although UW officials argue it would still put serious limitations on their work.
Blank, who spoke with Regents during a discussion about the bill, said that fetal tissue research is done across many departments on campus, all of which observe the high ethical standards that are required. “Use of fetal tissue is very highly regulated by the federal government,” she noted. “We are very adamant…about following those regulations, following those laws. In fact, we go beyond the requirements, conducting additional internal oversight of the research that we do on campus involving fetal tissue.”
Blank noted that there would likely be no objection to the Legislature reiterating the importance of those ethical standards. However, she warned that cutting off their ability to use new tissue samples would likely force many to face the choice of ending their work or going to a state where it is accepted.
Blank added that many students who come to the flagship campus because of its status as a leader in biomedical research would likely follow. “I can’t imagine our ability to recruit young, promising biomedical researchers, or promising students, to come to Wisconsin, if there’s a whole area of research that can’t be done,” she said.
AUDIO: Chancellor Rebecca Blank voices concerns about impact of the ban (2:32)
The Board of Regents held a lengthy discussion about the bill, but ultimately declined to take a position for or against the proposal. The legislation could come up for a vote in the Assembly later this fall, although its future in the state Senate remains uncertain. Some Republicans in that chamber have expressed concerns about its potential impact.