Antiabortion groups say they stand behind Trump's use of a drug tested on cells derived from an aborted fetus because the president 'was not involved with that abortion'
NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images
An antibody cocktail that President Trump received for his COVID-19 treatment was tested with stem cells obtained from a fetus that was aborted in the Netherlands in 1972.
Anti-abortion organizations have spoken out against the use of these stem cells, developed and duplicated in the laboratory, to test vaccines. Trump has also restricted the use of these stem cells in research.
Three leaders of anti-abortion organizations told insiders that while the tests were not ethical, they did support Trump's decision.
One said Trump was "sensational on life issues".
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Anti-abortion groups told insiders they had no problem with one of President Donald Trump's COVID-19 treatments that he now plans to make available to all Americans was tested on cells originally from an abortion.
It's a research practice that Trump severely curtailed during his presidency, and one pro-life group has been vehemently against it.
To treat Trump, doctors gave him supplemental oxygen and treatments, including a steroid typically used in severe COVID-19 cases and an experimental antibody cocktail developed by the US biotech company Regeneron.
To test the effectiveness of the antibody cocktail, Regeneron used an "immortalized epithelial cell line" or cells that were modified in a laboratory so that they could last forever when they otherwise wouldn't. These cells, now called HEK 293T cells, came from the kidneys of a fetus that was aborted in the Netherlands in 1972.
When Insider asked three anti-abortion organizations - the Heritage Foundation, the Texas Alliance for Life, and the Pro-Life Action League - about the origin of Trump's COVID-19 treatment, they declined.
In the past, anti-abortion advocates have spoken out against medical treatments that use components derived from aborted fetal tissue at every point in the creation and testing process, including experimental coronavirus vaccines.
Each group told Insiders, however, that they would not engage in this controversy - some because they believed the cells used in the testing had little to do with the 1972 abortion, and others because the antibody cocktail itself didn't show any trace of fetal Contained tissue.
The executive director of an organization told Insider that they had no criticism of Trump and supported him because he was against abortion and had sworn that Roe v. Overthrow Wade, which would nullify Americans' automatic right to abortion.
The fetal connection explained
Regeneron's tests of the drug used the fetal cells to create virus particles that mimicked the coronavirus. These in turn were tested on mouse antibodies and antibodies from a living human donor who had recovered from COVID-19.
According to the MIT Technology Review, most scientists do not consider HEK 293T cells to be fetal cells because they have been divided, modified, and used so many times over the past few decades.
"That's how you want to analyze it," said Alexandra Bowie, a spokeswoman for Regeneron, to the MIT Technology Review. "But the 293T cell lines available today are not considered fetal tissue, and we have otherwise not used fetal tissue."
A Regeneron representative previously told Insider that these cells were "immortalized epithelial cells, not stem cells, embryonic stem cells or fetal tissue."
Pro-choice proponents have called Trump's use of the treatment hypocritical.
Mary Alice Carter, a senior advisor to Equity Forward, a surveillance group that oversees the influence of anti-abortionists within the government, told the Washington Post that Trump "has politically sided with people who want these cell lines to stop used for therapies but went ahead and got it myself. "
Anti-abortion groups have spoken out against the use of human stem cell tests for vaccines
The Texas Alliance for Life, Heritage Foundation, and the Pro-Life Action League, as well as others who have not responded to Insiders' requests for comment, have opposed the use of human stem cells, including those derived from aborted fetuses, to test vaccines including a potential COVID-19 shot.
On April 17, anti-abortion advocates wrote a letter to Stephen Hahn, the appointee for the Food and Drug Administration, asking the agency to find "ethical" ways to test a COVID-19 vaccine that did not involve cells involved in abortions.
The letter has the signatures of 20 pro-life leaders, including Debi Vinnedge, president and chief executive officer of Children of God for Life, an anti-abortion group.
Children of God for Life and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a similar group, declined Insiders' requests for comment on the origin of Regeneron's treatment and the presidential approval of the drug.
An anti-abortion advocate said it wasn't hypocrisy because Trump and his doctors weren't involved in the abortion itself
Eric Scheidler, the executive director of the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago, said Trump's use of the Regeneron cocktail was ethical as the president was far from abortion itself.
"In the case of President Trump, the doctors who provide him with these drugs and treatments, they weren't involved in this abortion that took place decades ago," Scheidler told Insider. "They didn't help. They didn't choose. They may even wish it never happened, even if they benefit from something that stems from that injustice."
Some called the experiments to test treatment unethical
In an email to Insider, a Heritage Foundation spokesman referred to a Twitter thread by Dr. Tara Sander Lee, the Charlotte Lozier Institute's director of life sciences.
Lee called the experiments using cells from broken fetal tissue "not ethical," but did not call the antibody cocktail itself unethical because it did not contain the cells in question.
"The abortion-derived cell line HEK293 was used in experiments to test the antibodies separated from the antibody cocktail for the treatment of COVID-19 patients," wrote Lee. "These experiments are not ethical, but it is important to understand that no fetal cell lines have been used to make antibody cocktails."
When an insider asked the spokesman if the Heritage Foundation was behind Lee's Twitter statements, they said, "You bet? The Lozier Institute is a trusted ally and coalition partner, and the Heritage Foundation appreciates the expert opinions of its scientists, including Dr Lee here Heritage spoken more than once on a blackboard. "
Joe Pojman, the executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, cited a post from the Lozier Institute that said the antibody treatment itself does not contain broken cells derived from the fetus. The post co-authored by Lee did not mention the use of cells derived from aborted fetuses to test antibody treatment.
Trump was "sensational on life issues"
Pojman also told Insider that the Texas Alliance for Life is behind Trump and his COVID-19 treatment choice.
"We are still very excited to support President Donald Trump for re-election. He was sensational on life issues and we are very grateful to him for that," Pojman told Insider.
He said his organization saw "no reason for us to be concerned" about Trump's treatment.
"With regards to his treatment for COVID-19, we understood that all of the drugs he took were researched and developed without the use of cells from aborted babies. Some tests may be required," which used cells that were aborted from a descended fetus, said Pojman.
In an ideal world, he said "there should be no involvement in cells harvested from aborted babies," and the Texas Alliance for Life "would not support further destruction of unborn babies in order to harvest cells that will be used in developing one Drug or medical treatment device. "
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