U.S. Catholic bishops and pro-life leaders have sent an open letter to federal health authorities and the Trump administration calling for them to ensure that Americans will have access to coronavirus vaccines which are “free from any connection to abortion.”

The letter begins:

Sent on Friday, April 17, the open letter was addressed to Stephen Hahn, the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and copied to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar. It was signed by Archbishop of Kansas City and U.S. bishops’ head of pro-life activities Joseph Naumann, Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, and Archbishop of Oklahoma City Paul Coakley, as well as pro-life leaders from around the United States.

The signatories thanked the FDA for its efforts to combat the coronavirus and expressed their support for “efforts to develop an effective, safe, and widely available vaccine as quickly as possible,” but insisted that “fundamental moral principles” be followed in the development of vaccines without exploiting human life. The letter reads:

‘To be clear, we strongly support efforts to develop an effective, safe, and widely available vaccine as quickly as possible. However, we also strongly urge our federal government to ensure that fundamental moral principles are followed in the development of such vaccines, most importantly, the principle that human life is sacred and should never be exploited.”

The letter also draws attention to recent federal funding granted to a vaccine development project which is making use of cell lines from an aborted baby. Last month Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Johnson & Johnson) was granted more than $456 million in federal funding for their vaccine project using the PER C6 cell line, which comes from retinal tissue from an aborted baby. The letter notes:

“We are aware that, among the dozens of vaccines currently in development, some are being produced using old cell lines that were created from the cells of aborted babies. For example, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. has a substantial contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is working on a vaccine that is being produced using one of these ethically problematic cell lines.”

Last year the Trump administration removed funding from some projects using fetal tissue from recently aborted babies. The administration also instituted a policy which had the effect of making it more difficult for projects which use human fetal tissue (HFT) from aborted babies to receive federal funding. However, federal funding applications for projects using pre-existing cell lines which come from aborted babies were not impacted by the policy because the policy specifically excluded such cell lines from its definition of research involving HFT….