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University of Wisconsin: Abortion is crucial to our ‘life-saving research’ using aborted babies

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MADISON, Wisconsin, January 27, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- The University of Wisconsin (UW) medical school and a top pro-life legal group are at odds over whether university officials lied about using a state-based abortion clinic to gather fetal tissue and parts.

In a report issued last week, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) accused several university spokespersons of misleading state legislators, media outlets, and the public about UW's use of aborted babies inside the state. “Both Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and UW-Madison publicly denied they had any arrangement to supply baby parts from women undergoing abortion to researchers conducting gruesome experiments, but the documents we obtained prove they were not telling the truth," said ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman, whose information request led to the report's publication.

However, university spokesperson Lisa Brunette told LifeSiteNews that "The ADF report is very misleading."

"As we have publicly acknowledged several times – and as ADF was explicitly told when we provided records to them -- UW has not obtained donated fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood in more than five years; the voluntary donations ended in November 2010. There was no 'partnering' with Planned Parenthood on the research reported in 2014; their only role was as the site of tissue donation." 

At the heart of the dispute is a combination of politics, policy, and ethics. Since 2013, State Rep. Andre Jacque has introduced a bill that would ban the use of aborted babies for tissue and parts for scientific research in the state of Wisconsin, except for cells gathered prior to 2010. University officials have lobbied against the bill, with Dr. Robert Golden, Dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health at UW, telling Wisconsin Public Television that if enacted into law, the bill would make Wisconsin into "a fly-over state" that "would not be able to attract and recruit the kinds of scientists that make our university the jewel in the crown that it is."

According to Golden, the bill would also interfere with how UW "is...studying Down Syndrome and its links to Alzheimer's. Scientists are looking at the earliest stages of developmental defects in nerve cells in brain[s]. This research absolutely requires access to fetal tissue." Golden also said that the bill would have a negative effect on the federal government's $76 million in fetal tissue research grant funding that employs 1,400 people across the country.

The dean, whose position has been backed by university faculty and some Wisconsin businesses, told legislators in August that if women stopped having abortions, "It would have a substantial, negative impact to do the life-saving research we are doing."

Golden then seemed to take a different tack the next month, however, when he told legislators, "I really look forward to the day where no woman in this country ever finds herself in a situation where she has to go through the horrible process of deciding whether or not she is going to terminate her pregnancy."

Dr. David Prentice of the pro-life research organization Charlotte Lozier Institute, disagreed with Golden's assessment of the harm to research if fetal tissue is not available.

"There were other, better ways to do [research] even in 2009," he told LifeSiteNews. "The research concept itself, and relying on [aborted babies] as a source, is outdated science, and poor science. It is not cutting edge."

Golden "is simply not correct" about the harm to research if women stopped having abortions, continued Prentice. He identified three common areas of support for fetal tissue among some researchers: transplants, vaccines, and what he called "basic research."

"Nobody is actually doing fetal transplants since 2004," he said. The claim about vaccines has some truth because of the polio vaccine in the 1940s and 1950s." However, for "current vaccines, there are very few that use fresh fetal tissue. They grow cells from original cells in the 1970s."

And for "basic research -- Alzheimers, HIV, diabetes -- [these] can be done better by taking adult stem cells -- bone marrow or umbilical cord blood," according to Prentice.

On the political and moral front, Rep. Jacque told LifeSiteNews that using aborted babies for medical research is "a tremendous affront to human dignity. It's also a shortcoming of medical ethics that it's allowed to occur. One of the standards we have in medicine is that you must have the consent of the patient. In this case, there is no way for valid consent to be given by an unborn child or a guardian acting in the best interest of that child."

"Vulnerable populations have been repeatedly exploited [in human history]," continued Jacque. "There should be an agreement that we cannot allow the abortion of unborn children, and treating people as things. They are not commodities."

Jacque's bill awaits a vote in the state's Assembly, having passed through the relevant committee last year. Earlier this month, Wisconsin Family Action ran ads to garner support for the bill.

One of the keys to the debate is whether Golden and other UW spokespeople have omitted key information in statements to legislators and the media. During his August testimony, Golden was asked where UW gets its fetal tissues and other parts. The dean said that the university has "four licensed federal facilities under very strict federal regulations. Three of those facilities are embedded within universities....There is one freestanding tissue bank that some of our scientists also used, and I am not as familiar with that one as the other three."

Clarification on the four facilities was provided by UW-Madison's Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, Marsha Mailick. She told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel that they are the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at the University of New York, the University of Washington in Seattle, Advanced Bioscience Resources, and the University of Southern California.

However, Bowman's report claims Mailick, Golden, and others failed to inform the public and legislators of a partnership with Planned Parenthood that allowed UW researchers to collect fetal tissue within minutes of abortions. The 10-week to 18-week-old unborn children were killed at the Madison, Wisconsin Planned Parenthood, and used for two studies published in 2014.

The study had approval for 12 months ending in May 2010 -- and was published four years later. It was conducted at the Madison, Wisconsin Planned Parenthood location.  

A study application document sent in response to Bowman's request state that one study, of fetal abnormalities, would use Planned Parenthood as a "study location," while "the specific aims of" the study involved using Planned Parenthood's records when women used fetal abnormalities as a reason for abortion.

The abnormality study relied on "tissue collected on the termination of pregnancy" that "would otherwise be discarded," according to the documents. The study also relied on a "study nurse" who "consents the patients for utilization of the fetal tissue and placental tissue obtained." The abortions were to be done at a Planned Parenthood clinic, and "if the patient agrees to it, the fetal and placental tissue is collected through suction and deposited in a glass jar connected to the suction device, as per Planned Parenthood protocol by (physician performing the procedure)."

Brunette said the university's work with Planned Parenthood was in keeping with the statements from Golden and Mailick. She told LifeSiteNews that the study nurse "would come in, and she would do a consent for the patient, to donate tissue, and then they were on site, so there was never a need to pay for transportation costs or anything like that."

"The fact that the tissue was procured in 2010 is nothing new. We have acknowledged, for probably two or three years now, since the issue has come up, that some tissue was donated by patients at the Planned Parenthood clinic as of November 2010. Marsha Mailick was asked that question in August of 2015, five years later. And her statement was that we're not using tissue from Planned Parenthood. That's true."

"What's misleading about the Alliance Defending Freedom [release] is that if the average person read that story, and they said it in the note, they said the university was lying [about tissue procurement], that the information they have is old. Some people would call it ancient history. We just don't get tissue from there. It's not inaccurate in the least."

Brunette also claimed that the university made the relationship with Planned Parenthood "public ourselves, in the actual publication of the study."

Asked for documentation of statements made in the last "two or three years," Brunette provided a link to a September 2015 letter to the editor by Golden. She also e-mailed that "most of those acknowledgements were verbal to reporters who inquired if PPWI had ever supplied donated tissue." Brunette also cited "the IRB application to begin a study of fetal-growth abnormalities. This is a public document released to several outlets upon their request." Brunette also said that "two PPWI providers were named in the acknowledgements section of a study published in Molecular Human Reproduction. They were recognized for their help in tissue collection."

However, neither "provider" was named as such in the study. Likewise, the "IRB application" was not included in the study that was published several years after the application was approved. Bowman clarified to LifeSiteNews that Planned Parenthood was given no attribution or mention in either of the 2014 studies.

For its part, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has consistently pushed back against any involvement in fetal procurement. In a January press release, the group said that "Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin does not offer fetal tissue donation for patients..." And in a statement to the Journal-Sentinel after the ADF report was released, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin spokesperson Iris Riis said that her group's "opponents are desperately trying everything they can to get this fetal tissue bill to the floor."

"There is no ongoing research project, and the truth remains that Planned Parenthood does not currently offer tissue donation services to our patients," said Riis, who did not respond to a LifeSiteNews request for comment.

Bowman told LifeSiteNews that the statements from Brunette, Riis, Golden, and Mailick are misleading, and do not correctly address the underlying question of university policy. "If they mean, 'I'm not doing it right now...because I'm sitting in this hearing room," then they are misleading legislators and the public, said Bowman. "I was doing it this morning, but I'm not doing it right now."

"The studies were only published in 2014. Studies happen over a period of years. The request for institutional review board permission -- that happened in 2010, and the thing doesn't get published until 2014. Concept requests for permission all the way to publication is a multi-year process. That's not the distant past," argued Bowman, who said that "in terms of academic timetables, [the 2009/2010 fetal procurement with Planned Parenthood] is yesterday...because the study was published in 2014. So the whole process concluded only a year previous.”

"They're all about making misrepresentations about how the tissue ban would somehow ban using vaccines that were developed four years ago, which is ridiculous. And so they're reaching back four years to vaccines that were developed in cell lines, but they're saying this research process that ended a year ago" was a long time ago.

"The people of Wisconsin and their representatives wanted to know if babies are being dissected in their communities for experimentation at the UW. The UW hid the ball on that question even though they had public records showing their procurements at Planned Parenthood."

Prentice agreed with Bowman. "Because science is sort of a progressive thing, and it does take place over a series of years, it is recent history," he explained to LifeSiteNews. "Basically, until you get something published, it didn't happen. You could have a million-dollar grant, but until you've got something published in a peer-reviewed journal, it didn't happen. That's your verification; that's really your marker."

The timeline under discussion "really is recent history for science," said Prentice, who also described the statements by Golden and other UW spokespeople as "disingenuous."

"To say it in that way, that you're not relying on Planned Parenthood -- you certainly have relied on it in the past for current, published scientific studies. So it's disingenuous to say it's old history."

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