Abortion opponents Wednesday lost an appeal that challenged the University of Minnesota’s use of aborted fetal tissue for medical research.
The state Court of Appeals said the lawsuit filed in 2016 by Pro-Life Action Ministries is moot because the Legislature clarified the law, specifically allowing research on aborted fetal tissue, while the case was pending.
The suit had argued that the U was in violation of a 32-year-old law regarding disposal of fetal remains from abortions. Under that law, the use was restricted to tests necessary for the health of a woman, her future children or a criminal investigation.
The court, however, pointed to the 2017 law that specifically allows fetal tissue research as long as it is approved by the Fetal Tissue Research (FTR) committee, a university oversight panel. The court rejected the abortion opposition group’s argument that the fetal tissue testing be deemed “necessary.”
Instead, the court cited the law, which requires that the research be “designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.”
The legality of fetal tissue research at the university became an issue in the summer of 2016 when a U spokesman denied it was occurring on campus, then acknowledged it was taking place. Fetal tissue research explores the origins and treatments of HIV, diabetes, dementia and spinal-cord injuries.
Commenting on the ruling, university spokesman Chuck Tombarge said the U is committed to conducting critical research in an “ethical, respectful and lawful manner.”
“We appreciate the court’s guidance at this important intersection of medical research and law,” he said in a statement.
Under the 2017 law, a researcher at the U who wants to use the remains of an aborted fetus for research must provide a written explanation to the FTR justifying the use and explaining why the researcher cannot use other means or fetal tissue that doesn’t come from abortions.
Pro-Life Action Ministries also argued that the university “cannot test any type of tissue of any fetus from eight weeks to birth” or “during the entire spectrum of post-embryonic stages of fetal development.”
But the court said the law specifically allows research conducted on tissue from “all stages of fetal development including from abortions, miscarriages and stillbirths.”
At the time the suit was filed, a spokesman for Pro-Life Action Ministries said the group’s goal was to stop such research because “commodifying” fetal remains could create incentives for abortions.
A three-judge panel decided the case. The 12-page decision was written by Judge John Rodenberg and joined by Judges James Florey and Randolph W. Peterson.
The attorney for Pro-Life Action Ministries didn’t immediately respond to a call for comment.