State Representatives Question Pitt Fetal Tissue Research Amid Appropriations Discussions

Jun 26, 2019

Pennsylvania House Republicans say language was added to appropriation legislation for the University of Pittsburgh to safeguard against using state dollars for abortion procedures.

The concern follows the federal government’s move to significantly reduce research involving fetal tissue. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the National Institutes of Health would no longer be able to conduct research involving fetal tissue obtained through elective abortions.

Pennsylvania Republican Kathy Rapp is one of the state representatives who says she still has more questions about how the university funded a 2012 research study that used donated fetal tissue.

“We all know there is a lot of bioengineering, a lot of medical research. We just want to make sure that our taxpayers in Pennsylvania are not supporting any abortions in any of our facilities that we are appropriating tax dollars to,” she said.

The research sought to provide patients waiting for a liver transplant more time. The work was sponsored by a grant from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as well as a grant from the Italian Ministry.

The appropriations bill was approved Tuesday with a 2 percent increase for the state-related university as well as language that states that the funds are only to be used to instruct students and “providing student-related services and community outreach services, consistent with existing laws of this Commonwealth.”

Pitt is one of four state-related universities that receive commonwealth funding to reduce tuition costs for Pennsylvania students.

The amended legislation is now being considered in the Pennsylvania Senate.

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said no state funds were used to support the research referenced by the lawmakers and that the work was conducted in full compliance with state and federal regulations.

“The language will not impact research going forward. The funding in our appropriation bill is and always has been used to reduce tuition for Pennsylvania students, as well as aid other student and community programs such as those supported by the Rural Education line item,” he said in an emailed statement.

He said the added language in the bill, “simply describes how this funding is and has always been used.”

Mike Straub, the spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said lawmakers were concerned about the research’s legality after it was highlighted in the conservative publication, the Washington Examiner.

“It just seemed like a grey area that needed to be examined a little bit closer with regard to state funds in terms of if potentially state dollars were being used to pay for materials that were obtained through abortions,” he said.

Straub said, though, that the passage of the appropriations bill signals the support representatives have for the university. He said the other state related universities were also questioned and each said they had not conducted research using fetal tissue.

“In the end, the vote speaks for itself. It was something that needed to be cleared up and everybody felt very confident in supporting the university going forward,” he said.

WESA's Katie Meyer contributed to this report.