GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson is struggling to explain what makes Planned Parenthood’s facilitation of fetal tissue donation different than his own brain research, which has also relied on samples from aborted fetuses.
Carson, a former neurosurgeon, used 17-week-old fetal tissue samples in a 1992 study seeking to better understand the development of the brain. That revelation, which was published on Dr. Jen Gunter’s blog on Wednesday night, is leading reporters to question why the GOP candidate called fetal tissue research “disturbing” in the wake of several inflammatory videos depicting Planned Parenthood employees collecting biological material from aborted fetuses.
After a right-wing group first published footage suggesting Planned Parenthood was “selling aborted baby parts,” Carson strongly condemned the organization. He told Fox News that the scientific benefits of fetal research have been “overpromised” and “under-delivered.” He also said that 17-week-old fetuses are human beings, saying, “How can you believe that that’s just an irrelevant mass of cells?”
On Thursday, Carson defended himself to the Washington Post, suggesting that his 1992 study was based on a different “intent” than Planned Parenthood’s work.
“You have to look at the intent,” Carson said. “To willfully ignore evidence that you have for some ideological reason is wrong. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”
Carson told the Washington Post that fetal tissue research is not immoral and should not be banned. He said that he believes Planned Parenthood should be defunded, but he declined to specify whether the group should end its collection of fetal tissue donations.
Instead, he pivoted to his belief that Planned Parenthood’s founder wanted to eradicate African Americans, a characterization that historians dispute. “I may not be completely objective about Planned Parenthood, because I know how they started with Margaret Sanger who believed in eugenics,” Carson said.
Medical experts say that fetal tissue samples help them study the development of the human body in order to create better treatments for degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Material from aborted fetuses was also instrumental in the development of major vaccines. This week, writing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, one bioethicist argues that it’s immoral to stand in the way of fetal tissue research because that opposition undermines scientific developments that could save lives.