The sponsors of a bill that would ban the sale, transfer, or use of tissue from aborted fetuses have offered an amendment to the proposal. The change is aimed at addressing fears from the research community, which has argued that the restrictions in the legislation could have a devastating impact on life-saving work being done in the state. Some of the work uses fetal stem cell lines dating back decades.

The amendment offered Friday would allow work using tissue from fetuses aborted prior to January 1 of this year to continue. The sponsors of the bill, state Rep. André Jacque (R-De Pere) and Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), said in a statement that the original proposal was never expected to end work using existing stem cell lines, and they hope the substitute amendment will provide clarification to make sure that remains the case. Kleefisch said “I think this is a fair approach; one, I think, we all can live with.”

Similar legislation has been introduced in previous sessions with little success. The current version was brought forward again earlier this year shortly after the release of undercover videos by an anti-abortion group, which claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood has denied the videos are accurate, and have accused advocates of editing them to misrepresent the situation.

With the amendment, Jacque maintains the bill will help make sure the state is “setting a higher ethical standard for research in Wisconsin and putting an end to aborted tissue trafficking.”

UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Marsha Mailick said in a statement that they appreciate lawmakers listening to their concerns, but maintained the restrictions of the bill would still put the campus and biomedical industry at a competitive disadvantage. Mailick said that’s because “all cell lines have unique properties and existing cell lines are not a substitute for new cell lines created in the future.”

She also noted that all tissue used by UW researchers is donated from legally performed abortions. “Researchers use tissue from abortions which would otherwise be discarded. It would be unethical not to use such tissue to save lives.”

Also in a statement, BioForward CEO Lisa Johnson said the organization would not support the amendment “because it does not address all the issues related to research in Wisconsin.”

BioForward is an association representing multiple biotechnology and medical companies.

Johnson acknowledged the research involving fetal tissue is challenging and requires high ethical standards, and urged lawmakers “to choose a legislative response that also preserves a path for life-saving research to continue in the State of Wisconsin.”

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