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Wisconsin GOP Members Look to Ban Sale and Use of Aborted Fetal Tissue

Wisconsin's State Capitol

The fallout continues from undercover videos that showed a California Planned Parenthood employee discussing the sale of fetal tissue. In Madison on Tuesday, state lawmakers held a hearing on legislation that would ban the sale and use of aborted fetal tissue across the state. 

The issue touches on the emotions of both pro-choice and pro-life advocates.

GOP Rep. Andre Jacque authored the bill. It mentions Planned Parenthood numerous times -- although Jacque admits he has no knowledge of the organization selling fetal tissue in Wisconsin.

“I don’t know if they have. I don’t know if they’re doing it currently, and I don’t know if they have plans to do it in the future. But this legislation would prohibit it,” Jacque says.

Jacque says the bill not only would prohibit the sale of fetal tissue. It also would ban research conducted using aborted fetal tissue – unless the abortion took place more than five years ago.

“This legislation does not ban, and certainly will not end tissue donation or research. It does not prohibit any particular type of tissue from being experimented on, nor stop any particular method of experimentation,” Jacque says.

Under federal law, fetal tissue cannot be sold across state lines or for a profit. But Abbey Johnson claims Planned Parenthood profits from the practice. She’s the former abortion clinic director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Texas, and she spoke in favor of the ban:

“We were paid $200 per specimen. The cost for us, the actual reimbursable cost for us at Planned Parenthood was approximately $3 to $5 per specimen. It’s an incredibly profitable business,” Johnson says.

Johnson says in order to meet their quota, they had to perform 75 abortions a day, six days a week. Johnson could not testify to the policy and procedures of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin. But the organization has said it does not sell fetal tissue, nor does it allow patients to donate tissue for research.

A number of researchers testified on Tuesday – in opposition to the bill. Doctor Robert Golden is the dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health at UW-Madison. He says while it supports efforts to prevent profiting from the sale of fetal material, it does use fetal tissue in its research.

“On our campus alone, cancers, including lymphoma’s, stomach cancer, throat cancer, and other diseases have active NIH supported labs working on promising new treatment approaches. All of this will stop like this if this bill is passed,” Golden says.

Golden says UW-Madison receives about $76 million from the federal government, which supports about 100 labs that depend on fetal tissue. He says if lawmakers approve the ban, those scientists will leave. He hopes one day to move away from fetal tissue, but says for now, it’s necessary.

Lisa Johnson is CEO of a company called Bio Forward. She also testified against the ban. Johnson says while she understands the emotion surrounding the issue, it needs to be separated from the benefits of medical research. She says they’ve touched everyone in some way.

“Survivors happen because of the amazing scientists and researchers that we have. These brilliant people. These compassionate people. And we’re so fortunate we have them in this state,” Johnson says.

Johnson says she’s hopeful Wisconsin will not pass restrictive laws that send those scientists to Minneapolis or Michigan.

The bill is expected to move swiftly through the legislature.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.