About 50 people gathered at the Fleming Administration Building Saturday afternoon for a rally organized by the University of Michigan’s chapter of Students for Life. The rally called for the halt of and an investigation into the University’s alleged use of aborted fetal tissue for research.

Throughout the event, speakers, including students and local anti-abortion activists, talked about their disapproval of the University’s testing.

Lynn Mills, director of Pro-Life Detroit, said through a Freedom of Information Act request she found the University has spent more than $1,000 since 2014 on fetal tissue from Advanced Bioscience Resources, a nonprofit in California that provides “biomedical researchers with access to human tissues.” Mills claims the tissue is that of aborted fetuses.

According to the Advanced Bioscience Resources Overview, “Tissues obtained through ABR are retrieved from routinely performed surgical procedures including first and second trimester induced abortions, and full term deliveries.”

After looking through the FOIA request, The Michigan Daily was able to confirm the University’s purchases of tissue from ABR but was unable to confirm the University’s purchases of aborted fetal tissue.

LSA senior Rachel Crawford, president of Students for Life, said the group’s overall goal was to spread awareness about the University’s actions. Those present were asked to sign a letter that Crawford will deliver to University President Mark Schlissel on Monday asking him to end the purchasing of fetal tissue obtained from abortions.

“We just want to bring the attention of what’s going on at the University to many more people so they can learn more about it and decide how they feel about it,” Crawford said. “The University of Michigan does use fetal body parts to use in research. There’s a lot of evidence showing that there’s profit being made and price points being bargained, so we want to draw more attention to that.”

Audrey Nitzel, a representative of Students for Life of America, opened the rally by citing the work of Lisa Hope Harris, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University who also works at Planned Parenthood.

“The University of Michigan and dozens of others like it are all players in the fetal-trafficking industry and this must stop now,” Nitzel said. “The University of Michigan cannot and should not be a part of this barbaric practice.”

Harris did not provide comment, though University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald spoke on behalf of the University and Harris after the protest and wrote in an email statement the University is committed to the health needs of women, especially through its health system.

“The university provides comprehensive care at all stages of a woman’s life,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Fetal tissue research is important in the pursuit of developing life-saving and life-sustaining treatments and cures and U-M researchers conduct fetal tissue research.  Research using fetal tissue is crucial in several areas including blindness, childhood and other cancers, Alzheimer’s Disease and AIDS.”

Fitzgerald wrote the University complies with all applicable federal and state laws in obtaining fetal tissue for research purposes.

“I also would add that Dr. Lisa Harris is a compassionate OB-GYN physician at U-M who provides full health care to women in the communities we serve,” Fitzgerald wrote. “She is held in the highest regard by her patients and her peers.”

However, Nitzel told the crowd at the rally she does not think using aborted tissue is necessary for the University’s research endeavors and asked Schlissel to end the practice immediately.

“While we do value and encourage medical research into life-saving treatments, the simple fact is that fetal tissue of aborted babies has not been and is not necessary for life-saving treatment or disease research,” Nitzel said. “We ask Mark Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan, to immediately halt all trafficking of the remains of aborted babies by the University and encourage all members of the University community to contact him.”

Nitzel said the University should be held accountable for its actions and hopes it halts its current practices, especially because she believes there has been no evidence proving the research is effective.

“All humans deserve innate human rights,” Nitzel said. “We can’t allow for the purchasing of aborted baby body parts for research because there’s no evidence that the research is effective.”

Monica Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, denounced the alleged use of aborted fetal body parts by researchers and gave anecdotes about her many years spent rallying for the anti-abortion cause.

“I think the ultimate cause (of the University’s research) is we really don’t see the unborn child as one of us,” Miller said. “It’s the reduction of human being to a thing.”

During the event, a resident passing by spoke out against the rally by shouting during some of the speeches and calling the protesters “privileged” and “fascist.” The man interrupted Miller’s speech for five minutes and argued with many protesters before leaving. Miller, among many more in the crowd, asked the man why he was inhibiting her right to protest.

“You have false pretenses and misconceptions,” the man said. “Planned Parenthood is not selling body parts. You are all fascist.”

“Do you actually have an argument or do you just have yelling?” Miller asked the protester.

Nitzel added if Schlissel can’t stop the practice immediately, she hopes there will still be an investigation. Nitzel specifically noted her discontent with the University allegedly allowing its medical students to practice abortions at Planned Parenthood. This allegation was also not confirmed.

At the end of the rally, LSA sophomore Beth Swan, vice president of Students for Life, said she was surprised when she found out about the alleged research and lauded those who came out to the rally despite holding a minority opinion on campus.

“We have great research going on here,” Swan said. “But the research going on with aborted fetuses is wrong. I can’t stand behind it. As a student, it’s really hard to be pro-life on this campus. I just want everyone to stay strong, keep fighting and demand the University of Michigan to take those the funds away from buying aborted body parts and using it towards more ethical research.”

A representative for Students for Choice could not be reached at the time of publication.

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