Gov. Scott Walker wouldn’t commit Wednesday to supporting a bill with broad Republican support that would make it a felony to perform research using tissue obtained from aborted fetuses, saying he is focused on stopping activity shown on recently released undercover videos involving Planned Parenthood.
And in a sign the proposal may face trouble passing the GOP-controlled Senate, Republican Sen. Alberta Darling said she opposed the current version because it would halt ongoing research at UW-Madison.
A state Assembly committee held a public hearing this week on the proposal that would outlaw selling, donating and experimenting with cells, tissues, organs, or other fetal body parts.
The measure drew support from abortion opponents who likened research on aborted fetal tissue to Nazi experiments. But researchers from UW and the private sector said the proposed ban could jeopardize $76 million of work at the UW-Madison campus and put thousands of jobs at risk.
Walker was asked Wednesday during an appearance at the Wisconsin State Fair whether he supported the bill given the concerns raised by the researchers.
Walker didn’t address their worries, or whether he would back allowing the research to continue on cells obtained prior to 2010. Backers of the bill said they are working on a new version with that compromise.
“What we want is a law that will stop what happened on the videos, and we’ll certainly watch throughout the process how they get something like that to us,” Walker said.
The videos he referenced were filmed and released by anti-abortion activists. They show a Planned Parenthood medical director in southern California meeting with people posing as potential buyers of intact fetal specimens. The videos raised questions of whether Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has denied making any profit and said it charges fees solely to cover its costs.
“I think people want to make sure something like that isn’t happening in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.
Federal law prohibits the commercial sale of fetal tissue, but allows not-for-profit donation of tissue with the consent of the woman who had an abortion. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has said it does not offer tissue donation services and has taken a neutral position on the bill.
Republican Rep. Joel Kleefisch, a bill co-sponsor and chairman of the criminal justice committee that held the hearing, said Wednesday that he was committed to scheduling a vote on the measure as soon as possible next month.
A majority of Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly have signed on as co-sponsors. There are no Democratic supporters.
In the Assembly, 42 of 62 Republicans are on board and Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday he still hoped to have a vote on a bill in September or October that bans the use of fetal tissue obtained after a certain date.
“I don’t want to get in the way of vaccines and research that can be done in an ethical way,” he said.
In the Senate, 10 of 19 Republicans are co-sponsors, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hasn’t said if or when the bill will come up.
There are already signs of trouble for Republican backers in the Senate.
Darling told WKOW-TV on Wednesday that she supports prohibiting making a profit on selling aborted fetal tissue in Wisconsin, but research that follows federal guidelines should be allowed to continue.
“I think we can find a middle ground where we’re doing the right thing for the right purpose,” she told the station.
Kleefisch said he was “extremely optimistic” the governor would sign the bill, even as he works on changes to allow some research to continue and to ensure the ban is constitutional.
Similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutionally vague by federal courts in Arizona, Utah, Louisiana and Illinois.