Catholic Church leaders across the U.S. are advising people to avoid the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because of its connection to abortion and opt for more ethical alternatives.
Bishops in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado and other states said they have “moral concerns” about the newly-approved vaccine because it was developed with cell lines created from aborted babies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week.
The new vaccine “is morally compromised … and should not be accepted by Catholics if other choices are available,” said Bishop Alfred Schlert, of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to the Morning Call. “Other vaccines are available and are more morally acceptable.”
Monsignor Gregory Gordon of the Diocese of Las Vegas, Nevada, also expressed “moral concerns” about the use of cell lines created from aborted babies in the new vaccine, NBC 3 News reports.
“Vaccines should be ethically made, where there’s no link at all to cell lines from aborted fetuses,” Gordon said in a statement. “If one has a choice, it’s better to choose those vaccines that are less linked to what we would consider to be a moral evil.”
According to research by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, Johnson & Johnson used cell lines created from aborted babies in the design and development, production and confirmatory lab tests to create the vaccine. No cells from aborted babies are in the actual vaccine.
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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.”
In the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the cell line was created from a baby who was aborted in 1985, the Spokesman-Review reports.
Many also have advised against 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 encouraged pro-lifers to seek out the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines when possible. However, the bishops also emphasized that Catholics can receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “in good conscience if no other alternative is available.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine “is morally unacceptable, especially in light of better vaccine options,” Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs said in a statement. “While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines performed some tests on aborted fetal cells, they are both morally permissible based on their more remote cooperation with the evil of abortion.”
The bishops of Spokane, Washington and Boise, Idaho issued similar statements this week.
Amid the heightened concern, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops encouraged Catholics to urge pharmaceutical companies “stop using abortion-derived cell lines.”
However, the bishops’ conference and the Vatican also emphasized that it is morally permissible to be vaccinated with any of the vaccines.
“When ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available, it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said in a Dec. 21 statement. “The licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses.”
All currently available COVID-19 vaccines 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 coronavirus 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 “the 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 and are produced with ethical materials, including pluripotent stem cells and tissue from placentas, umbilical cords and amniotic fluid. 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.