By Scott Bauer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican state lawmakers are renewing their push to ban research on aborted fetal tissue in Wisconsin, with one proposal circulated this week branded as ineffective by the staunchest anti-abortion forces.
At least two other proposals were in the works, while private and university researchers who have blocked similar efforts the past six years remain firmly against anything that would impinge on their work.
“It’s not going to be easy to come up with a compromise,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters Thursday. “I’m still optimistic we can come up with something that makes sense.”
Three Republican lawmakers quietly circulated a bill Tuesday that would prohibit the sale and research of fetal tissue starting in 2018. Fitzgerald said the measure would essentially duplicate federal law in Wisconsin, which is why anti-abortion groups said it wouldn’t go far enough.
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Wisconsin Family Action, Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life comprise a coalition that urged lawmakers not to sign on to the bill. They called the measure “complex and ambiguous” and said it had numerous exemptions that would allow universities and clinics and others to evade the research prohibition.
The coalition is working on alternative proposals that it says will end the sale and use of fetal tissue body parts obtained from abortions.
Rep. Joel Kleefisch, a Republican from Oconomowoc, said he’s working on a bill that would do more to ensure no newly aborted fetal tissue is being used for testing, something he said wouldn’t be shut down under the measure circulating now. Republican Rep. Andre Jacque, who is also opposed to the current bill, said it would “have no real effect” on stopping the sale of fetal tissue.
A fetal tissue research ban introduced in 2015 sought to prohibit research on fetal tissue from abortions that occurred after Jan. 1, 2015. That was seen as an attempt to exempt research on existing fetal tissue lines and failed to pass.
Those against a ban say it would curtail promising research on potentially life-saving cures and treatments and hurt the state’s economy.
Cures for Tomorrow, a coalition of Wisconsin academic research institutions, bioscience-related trade groups and health care providers, said given federal law and policies governing the use of fetal tissue and cells “we strongly believe that no additional regulation by the State of Wisconsin is needed.”
The coalition includes the Medical College of Wisconsin, UW Health, UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
University of Wisconsin System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said in an email that the system was reviewing the bill and “will work with all of our research institutions to determine how this may affect the critical research occurring on their campus. We urge the legislature to carefully consider how any additional regulatory actions may impact that research before moving forward.”
The latest proposal comes from Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, and Reps. Cindi Duchow and Amy Loudenbeck. It would make violating the ban punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to nine months in prison. That is weaker than the bill last session, which would have made it a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.
In a memo seeking co-sponsors, the lawmakers wrote that the bill would close a loophole in state law that prohibits the attorney general from prosecuting the sale of fetal body parts within the state of Wisconsin. The bill also would ban the acquisition of fetal body parts for research from a for-profit entity, abortion clinic or entity that exists primarily to obtain fetal tissue to sell.
It would also prohibit state researchers who object to abortion from being forced to participate in fetal tissue research if it’s against their moral or religious beliefs.
“This legislation prioritizes the rights of the unborn to ensure that not only is there no financial inventive to abortion, but that there is real consequence to breaking this law,” the co-sponsors wrote.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos supports the bill, said his spokeswoman Kit Beyer.
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