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Exploring the impact of federal regulations on abortion research

Nisha Verma, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Project abstract

Providing evidence-based care to patients has become an increasingly important part of medical practice, but this aim cannot be achieved without strong scientific research. Legal restrictions on certain types of family planning research may create obstacles to advancing knowledge that supports evidence-based patient care. Specifically, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will not fund “research in which a human embryo is destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death” due to the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment. In addition, federally-funded scientific research involving human subjects is regulated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which in 2001 specified that "no individual engaged in the research may have any part in any decisions as to the timing, method or procedures used to terminate a pregnancy.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that these regulations have restricted the types of abortion research investigators are able to do and has discouraged some providers from doing abortion research altogether. It appears that the ability to study abortion technique has been particularly restricted. However, currently no reports in the literature address the effect of legal restrictions on abortion research. This study seeks to identify whether these barriers to conducting abortion research exist in academic medical centers, and if so, how they change the ways investigators research abortion. By exploring these potential barriers, this study aims to identify obstacles that prevent investigators from generating evidence as to the best practices in abortion care.


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