Republicans and pro-life organizations have repeatedly called for the defunding of Planned Parenthood since the release of a series of undercover videos filmed by an anti-abortion group.
The videos appear to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the price of fetal tissue taken from abortions.
Planned Parenthood has been accused of selling baby parts and organs to make a profit, but the organization claims it only seeks funds for transport and other associated costs.
Fetal tissue research has been going on for decades in the U.S. and has been part of developing life-saving vaccines. The WI-38 cell strain from 1961 and the MRC-5 cell strain (UK) from 1965 have contributed to the development of vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella, rabies and other diseases, noted The History of Vaccines, an educational website.
The Associated Press reports that fetal tissue has also been used to research cures for numerous illnesses, from cancer to AIDS.
University labs and hospitals use fetal tissue cells because the cells can divide quickly and are less likely to be rejected when transplanted.
Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told AP via email:
"If researchers are unable to work with fetal tissue, there is a huge list of diseases for which researchers would move much more slowly, rather than quickly, to find their cause and how they can be cured."
AP notes that several universities refused to allow their researchers to comment out of fears for the physical safety of those researchers.
BuzzFeed reports it has had problems getting researchers to go on the record about the importance of fetal tissue research because of fear of the highly charged emotions on the pro-life side.
BuzzFeed solicited interviews from more than 70 scientists, but only six agreed to talk to the news site about their work and that was under the guarantee of remaining anonymous.
A stem cell biologist at a large public university told BuzzFeed, "There’s crazy people out there and I have young children."
The biologist added: “Secondly, to be honest, my university will probably freak out as well. They don’t want to deal with the craziness around this."
Another researcher said, "We scientists fantasize various kinds of horrible worst-case scenarios that could derail our research and family life."
The problem with being silent is that the American public is not made aware of the important work done with fetal tissue research, and may simply believe the horror stories being touted over the Planned Parenthood videos, which paves the way for defunding.
Jeanne Loring, of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, used to work with fetal tissue, but now researches stem cells.
“I’ve been very open about this and I’ve never been attacked or picketed,” the researcher told BuzzFeed.
“We exist at the will of the public, and if there are politicians who just hate our guts it’s going to be a lot harder.”