The latest Republican effort to ban the use of fetal tissue harvested from abortions was circulated for legislator co-sponsorship last week. The “Heal Without Harm Initiative,” introduced by State Representative Joel Kleefisch and State Senator Terry Moulton attempts to prevent the exploitation of aborted babies for profit while recognizing the need for scientific research. A memo to lawmakers requesting co-sponsorship described that effort this way:
Wisconsin is renowned for pioneering successful and innovative research and it is imperative that our continued success relies upon ethical sources. The Heal Without Harm Initiative’s objective is not to limit the ability of science to attain laudable goals, but to achieve progress using standards that prize ethical procedures, and do not create a demand for the bodies of babies who suffer death from abortion.
The Heal Without Harm Initiative is comprised of two complimentary bills. The first, known as the Fetal Remains Respect Bill (LRB-1754), prohibits any person from knowingly acquiring, providing, receiving or using fetal body parts obtained from induced abortions (i.e., where the child is directly and deliberately killed). The Bill also requires a facility that provides an abortion to arrange for the entombment, inurnment or internment of the aborted remains. Any entity that violates this bill will be subject to a civil fine of not less than $50,000 and not more than $100,000. No individual, including mothers and fathers, will be subject to this fine.
The second bill, the Unborn Child Disposition and Anatomical Gift Bill (LRB-1755), requires that in every instance of an unborn child’s death due to stillbirth or miscarriage (i.e., where the child dies naturally or accidentally) within a facility, the facility shall inform the mother that she may request her child’s remains either for final disposition or to make an anatomical gift for research, experimentation, study, or transplantation. Facilities must inform parents that they may request and obtain a certificate of stillbirth for their child. The bill does not pertain to stillbirths or miscarriages that occur outside of a facility (e.g., in a home). The facility that violates this bill will be subject to a civil fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services will use any of these fines to study the feasibility of developing fetal tissue and umbilical cord blood banks for use in research.
Today, Wisconsin has an extraordinary opportunity to lead the nation by championing research that is ethical, innovative and effective. Such a commitment to heal without harm would truly uphold our state’s proud tradition of social justice and respect for human life.
Taken together, the bills ban the possession or use of fetal body parts harvested from an abortion, while allowing mothers whose pregnancies end in stillbirth or miscarriage to donate fetal tissue for medical research or transplant. In fact, it requires that mothers be notified of the opportunity to make such donations. The effort by Kleefisch and Moulton to strike a balance between respect for human life and the needs of medical research apparently was lost on Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Jennifer Shilling. Without ever mentioning abortion or fetal body parts, Shilling issued a release Friday claiming the bill was an effort to stifle medical research. The fear-mongering headline sets the tone for the entire release:
Republicans renew effort to block lifesaving medical research
GOP proposal would criminalize Wisconsin’s cutting edge biomedical advances
LA CROSSE, WI – Republican lawmakers and anti-choice special interest groups are renewing their push to ban medical research in Wisconsin. Led by Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) and Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), LRB 1754 would ban lifesaving medical research and impose criminal penalties on biomedical researchers. In response to the proposal, Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) released the following statement:
“This bill is a twisted effort to push a misguided special interest agenda. Anyone who knows a family member or loved one affected by cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease wants hope that one day we can find cures for these devastating illnesses. LRB 1754 would crush that hope for Wisconsin families and patients by blocking the cutting edge research that could one day lead to a breakthrough cure.
“Lifesaving medical research in Wisconsin already follows the highest level of ethical standards and federal laws regarding tissue donation. Bioscience accounts for over 100,000 private sector jobs in Wisconsin and has an economic impact of $27 billion a year. 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.”
Shilling’s release never explains how Republicans are thwarting medical research; it offers only alleged consequences of the bill. Shilling chooses not to explain what she sees as the causes of those consequences. Her approach is reminiscent of a Democratic Party of Wisconsin news release celebrating the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. The release celebrated how the ruling was a victory for “women’s health,” but never once mentions abortion. Similarly, Shilling seems to want to decry what the bill does while unwilling to describe what the bill does. The closest she comes to mentioning abortion is a vague reference to “anti-choice special interest groups.”
As for her contention that “lifesaving medical research in Wisconsin already follows the highest level of ethical standards and federal laws regarding tissue donation,” the memo cited above addresses that issue as well: “The U.S. House of Representatives Select Investigative Panel on Infant Live’s Final Report makes clear that federal law does not sufficiently stop the sale of abortion-derived fetal tissue for profit. Federal law also fails to address the ethical issues that come with the research community using these baby body parts.”
A bill circulated earlier this session garnered relatively few co-sponsors and was not endorsed by Wisconsin’s pro-life community. Pro-life critics argued that bill was not a serious effort to block the sale of aborted fetal tissue in the state.