As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available to the general public, it brings a question that often accompanies new vaccines: Was this made using cells from an aborted fetus?
The short answer is often yes, because almost all modern medicine is at least remotely connected with certain immortal cell lines that may have originated from the bodies of electively aborted fetuses. This puts people with pro-life beliefs in a dilemma, depending on how involved these morally compromised cell lines are with the treatments they may need, and coronavirus is no different.
First, there were no fetal cells used in the production of any of the vaccines currently available. However, the two vaccines approved for use in the United States — Moderna and Pfizer — were partially tested on a fetal cell line to confirm antibody responses, according to research from the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines currently in phase three trials involve fetal cells in both production and testing.
Immortal cell lines, like the one the COVID-19 vaccines were tested on, are groups of cells taken from humans or animals which multiply continuously due to a mutation causing sustained reproduction. The specific cell line HEK-293 was used in some of the testing for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and originated in a miscarried or aborted fetus in 1973. The vaccine was only tested on these possibly-abortion-derived cells to confirm that it worked, and the cells are not incorporated into the serum injected into people.
If these cells did come from an elective abortion, it was not performed for the sake of these cells — making them a product but not the cause of what many consider a grave evil. Though those with pro-life beliefs may object to this method of testing, several pro-life moral authorities have determined that the connection is sufficiently remote and the situation sufficiently serious to allow people to receive the vaccine in good conscience.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in their statement on the issue that “while neither vaccine is completely free from any connection to morally compromised cell lines, in this case the connection is very remote from the initial evil of the abortion” and that the current situation is “sufficiently serious to justify their use.”
A statement from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Convention of Southern Baptists concluded similarly: “Christians are not morally culpable if they use treatments and vaccines that were developed using such cells, even if the cells originated in aborted fetal tissue.”
While it’s preferable that abortion not be involved at all in vaccine development, refusing the COVID-19 vaccine because of this connection would also mean saying no to the MMR vaccine that prevents measles, mumps, and rubella, as well the chicken pox, hepatitis, and rabies vaccines. As far as the link to abortion goes, the coronavirus vaccine is more remote than most.
If any drug tested on or developed using HEK-293 is immoral, then “we can say goodbye to modern medicine” wrote Rev. Matthew Schnieder, a Catholic priest who writes on bioethics. “If we reject a medication merely for being tested on a fetal cell line, most of standard pharmacy would be immoral,” he said.
In another article, Schnieder put forth 12 things in more direct cooperation with evil than the coronavirus vaccine. Among them were “buying Energizer Batteries, Heinz Ketchup, Doritos, Lays, or something similar,” which all financially support Planned Parenthood; “eating bananas” and “drinking coffee,” which are industries rife with forced labor; or “watching the live-action ‘Mulan,’” which worked with the Chinese governmental organization carrying out the ongoing Uyghur genocide.
So what are pro-life people to do? The USCCB and Catholic bioethicists say that when receiving morally compromised vaccines, pro-life recipients should be absolutely clear that they do not condone the method of production.
“While having ourselves and our families immunized against COVID-19 with the new vaccines is morally permissible and can be an act of self-love and charity toward others, we must not allow the gravely immoral nature of abortion to be obscured,” the statement said
In an article for “Public Discourse,” bioethicist and scientist Rev. Nicanor Austriaco wrote, “The appropriation of an evil act would not be justifiable if it contributed to future evil acts because of scandal or cooperation. Therefore, a citizen of conscience who is opposed to abortion could avail herself of any vaccine developed using fetal cells from an elective abortion only if she avoided scandal by making her opposition to abortion absolutely clear.”
In the end, the decision to receive the vaccine is a personal one that depends on health risks, proximity to vulnerable demographics, and overall comfortability with the production method. Getting the vaccines that are currently available won’t result in more abortions, but it’s also important to let vaccine developers know that you would prefer one without any connection to abortion.