The White House Is Hurting HIV Research to Keep the Religious Right Happy

Trump gives abortion opponents what they want.

It’s not news that Donald Trump’s White House is anti-LGBT: At every chance, he’s chosen anti-gay appointees, backed anti-trans policies, and chosen vocal homophobes for ceremonial events. And those actions make sense electorally, since the coalition that he’s put together can’t keep him in power without the support of right-wing religious groups.

And in the quest to keep those leaders happy, the administration has been quietly pulling the plug on medical research that relies on fetal tissue, ordering reviews of all federally funded research that uses donations from elective abortions. According to Science, in September the Food and Drug Administration had to stop using fetal tissue to test drugs, which it does to produce vaccines for diseases like Zika. A contract between the Department of Health and Human Services and UC San Francisco looks to be on the chopping block. And, in a huge blow to HIV research, scientists at the National Institutes of Health have been ordered to stop acquiring fetal tissue altogether. Per Science:


The suspension, imposed this past September without a public announcement, came as the government launched a review of all fetal tissue research funded by the federal government. The pause affects two laboratories run by the Bethesda, Maryland–based agency, NIH officials say. In one case, it disrupted a study probing how the virus that causes AIDS initially colonizes human tissues.


“We were all poised to go and then the bombshell was dropped,” says HIV researcher Warner Greene, director of the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco, California, who was collaborating with an NIH laboratory that received the order. “The decision completely knocked our collaboration off the rails. We were devastated.”

This isn’t just a blow to HIV treatment, it’s cutting out the legs of efforts to “cure” the disease by preventing its spread in the first place. And it’s not the first time Trump’s White House has shown contempt for HIV/AIDS relief. The president dismissed every member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS one year ago and hasn’t replaced a single one of them yet. At the start of December, the White House had Mike Pence deliver a speech commemorating the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day. Pence—who at various points in his political career has endorsed redirecting federal funds for HIV/AIDS patients to support gay-conversion therapy and sluggishly allowed a massive HIV outbreak to spread unchecked—didn’t even mention gay people in his speech. That bears repeating: The vice president refused to acknowledge LGBT people in a speech about the impact of AIDS.

The White House’s main goal with this ban may be to keep abortion opponents happy. But Trump and his underlings have shown that they’re willing to deliberately exacerbate the AIDS crisis just to score those political points. The single most generous thing anyone can say is for them that’s a sacrifice worth making.

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