Vowing to "free science and medicine from the grasp ofpolitics," President Clinton marked the anniversary of Roe v.Wade on Friday by overturning prohibitions on fetal tissueresearch and lifting restrictions on abortion counseling atfederally funded clinics.

Clinton also signed orders ending bans on abortion at militaryhospitals and federal financing for overseas population controlprograms. He also ordered a review of the ban on the privateimportation of RU-486, the French abortion pill.

Clinton's action was hailed Friday by representatives of thebiotechnology industry, who did not expect the move to inducewomen to have abortions, and stressed that broad cell therapyresearch programs may all benefit by permitting the half-dozen teams that have interests in fetal cell research toproceed.

Fetal tissue research was banned in November 1989 by Healthand Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who prohibitedthe use of federal funds for research involving fetal tissue.

The Association of Biotechnology Companies (ABC) last Juneurged then-President Bush to sign legislation that wouldprovide for federal funding of fetal tissue research for medicalpurposes. The bill would require waiting until women hadalready sought an abortion to obtain consent for donating thetissue and would prohibit its sale.

William Small, executive director of the ABC, on Friday issued aletter to Clinton, saying his board of directors was "delighted"the ban has been lifted.

"ABC takes no stand on the underlying issue of abortion," Smalladded. "Nor do we believe that research on fetal tissue andcells has any relationship to abortion; one is a medical issue,the other social."

CytoTherapeutics Inc. of Providence, R.I., has developedsemipermeable capsules to place cells that produce therapeuticproducts in anatomical sites where a compound is needed totreat such diseases as Parkinson's. Seth Rudnick, the company'spresident and chief executive officer, said he believes celltherapy was hurt by limiting one aspect of it. His company doesnot use fetal tissue, but operates from transplantation conceptsdemonstrated in fetal tissue research.

"The fewer barriers to innovative investigation, the better,"Rudnick said, "because we'll all learn."

The prospect of reversing disease through fetal tissuetransplantation has given hope to families of Huntington'spatients and diabetics, as well as those whose relatives haveParkinson's, Rudnick added. Those hopes were frustratedduring the research ban, which was apparently intended torespond to concerns of anti-abortion groups.

Asked what message Clinton had for the anti-abortionmarchers, White House communications chief GeorgeStephanopoulos said: "He respects their views but he disagrees.He feels that these are decisions that must be left to womenand something that they must engage in with counselors andothers in their private lives."

"Our vision should be of an America where abortion is safe andlegal but rare," Clinton said.

Clinton, speaking as he signed the orders in the Oval Office, saidthat the restrictions, a legacy of both the Reagan and Bushadministrations, had interfered with both the progress ofmedical science and with the ability of doctors to care for theirpatients.

"The American people deserve the best medical treatment inthe world," he said. "We're committed to providing them withnothing less."

Stephanopoulos said Clinton "wants to make sure that thefederal government sticks with Roe vs. Wade," the SupremeCourt decision 20 years ago that legalized abortion.

Anti-abortion leaders, meanwhile, hoped to energize theircause.

"Most Americans are still very uncomfortable with abortion ondemand," said Gary Bauer, president of the conservative FamilyResearch Council and a former Reagan White House official.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.

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