Catholic bishops across the U.S. are warning people about the connection between the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and abortion.
This week, bishops in St. Louis, New Orleans and Baton Rouge said they have “moral concerns” about the newly-approved vaccine because it was developed with cell lines created from aborted babies.
“Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Johnson & Johnson uses a line of stem cells procured from abortions performed over 30 years ago in the production of its vaccine,” Bishop Michael G. Duca of the Diocese of Baton Rouge said in a statement Monday.
The Archdioceses of St. Louis and New Orleans also called the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “morally compromised” because cell lines created from aborted babies were used to develop it, the AP reports.
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According to research from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Johnson & Johnson developers used fetal cell lines in the design and development, production and lab tests to create the vaccine. No cells from aborted babies are in the actual vaccine.
Fetal cell lines are cells taken from an aborted baby and multiplied in a lab “into many cells of the same kind,” the research group explained. “These can be grown indefinitely and further multiplied, creating lines of cells that are sometimes used for science experiments.”
Many Catholics also have expressed concerns about the vaccine from AstraZeneca because it also used a cell line created from an aborted baby’s kidney in development, production and testing.
The Catholic leaders advised pro-lifers to opt for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, rather than the new one from Johnson & Johnson, when possible. However, the bishops also emphasized that Catholics can receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “in good conscience if no other alternative is available.”
On Tuesday, two leaders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a similar statement recommending the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines “if one has the ability to choose a vaccine,” according to the report.
Duca said he is thankful that the U.S. now has vaccines to protect people from COVID-19, the “virulent killer.”
“Being vaccinated should be considered as an act of charity toward others in our communities,” he said. “I encourage all of the faithful of the Diocese of Baton Rouge to take this moral evaluation to heart as you make your decision to receive the coronavirus vaccinations as they become available.”
All currently available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. have some connection to aborted babies – some more than others. The Charlotte Lozier Institute identified several that are being developed ethically without cell lines derived from aborted babies, but they are not available yet.
Pro-lifers and religious leaders have conflicting opinions about the new vaccines. Many have recommended that people avoid the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but disagree about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
In the case of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, cell lines created from an aborted baby were used in “animal-phase testing,” but they were not used in the development or production of the vaccines. Because the connection to abortion is small, many say the vaccines are acceptable, especially when no alternative is available. However, others argue that any connection to abortion, even a remote one, makes a vaccine unethical.
Vaccines can be produced ethically with pluripotent stem cells and tissue from placentas, umbilical cords and amniotic fluid — materials that do not require the destruction of human life. In 2018, the Trump administration created a $20 million grant to invest in these ethical research alternatives.
Last year, the Charlotte Lozier Institute identified 17 research groups that were conducting ethical coronavirus vaccine experiments while five that were not. The five using cell lines created from aborted babies in their research include the University of Oxford (AstraZeneca), Johnson & Johnson and the University of Pittsburgh.
Some vaccine producers appear to be listening to pro-lifers’ concerns. In September, the company Sanofi-Pasteur announced plans to produce a new, ethically-developed polio vaccine. The project will replace an older polio vaccine that was developed with cells from an aborted baby, according to the Catholic News Agency. Sanofi-Pasteur is one of the largest vaccine production companies in the world.