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KHN’s ‘What The Health?’: Fetal Tissue Research Is Latest Flashpoint In Abortion Debate


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The Trump administration this week announced efforts to restrict research using fetal tissue from elective abortions. The new policy bars such research by government scientists and creates hurdles for outside scientists that get funding from the National Institutes of Health. The move displaces a policy passed with bipartisan support in Congress more than 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, former Vice President Joe Biden endured backlash from other Democratic candidates and women’s groups after he said he supports the continuation of the “Hyde Amendment,” which bans federal government funding of most abortions.

And the Trump administration’s policies on both trade and immigration could have a major impact on health issues, including the makeup of the nation’s health care workforce.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner from Kaiser Health News, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post and Joanne Kenen of Politico.

Rovner also interviews Dan Weissmann, host of the podcast “An Arm and a Leg,” about why health care costs so much and what patients can do about it. KHN is co-producing the podcast’s new season.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The Trump administration’s announcement Wednesday about federal cutbacks in fetal tissue research is short of a total ban, but scientists in the field say it is concerning because it could affect work on treatments or preventions for key diseases, such as HIV and Parkinson’s.
  • Biden’s announcement that he supports the Hyde Amendment may not be as problematic to his presidential candidacy as some people think. Although the left wing of the party is strongly opposed to abortion restrictions, many Democrats and independents have a more nuanced view.
  • Health issues often play a key role in international trade negotiations because many countries do not give drugmakers as generous patent protections as the U.S. does.
  • President Donald Trump’s effort to restrict immigration could have serious ripple effects on U.S. health care since foreign-born residents provide a large amount of home health care and services in rural areas.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: Kaiser Health News’ “Your Wake-Up Call On Data-Collecting Smart Beds And Sleep Apps,” by Julie Appleby

Margot Sanger-Katz: The Washington Post’s “Pfizer Had Clues Its Blockbuster Drug Could Prevent Alzheimer’s. Why Didn’t It tell the World?” by Christopher Rowland

Joanne Kenen: The New York Times’ “Doctors Were Alarmed: ‘Would I Have My Children Have Surgery Here?” by Ellen Gabler

Paige Winfield Cunningham: The New York Times’ “Fighting the Gender Stereotypes That Warp Biomedical Research,” by JoAnna Klein

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