The Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines and Abortion

By Amy Gehrke, Executive Director

& Steve Jacobs, J.D./Ph.D., Program Director, Illinois Right to Life 


With all of the news about the development of COVID-19 vaccines, which could soon be mandated by states and employers, many pro-life advocates are nervous about the vaccines’ possible connection to the remains of unborn children killed by abortion. There are several cell lines derived from the remains of unborn children that have been used to develop common vaccines. The short answer is that there is no indication that a preborn human was killed for the purpose of developing any of the current leading COVID-19 vaccines.

The long answer is much more complicated.

In the mid-20th century, fetal remains were used to create cell lines for medical research that were, in turn, used to develop a number of common vaccines: “The most widely used foetal cells are WI-38 and MRC-5. The WI-38 cells were derived by Leonard Hayflick in 1962 from the lung of a 3-month female foetus… [t]he initials WI refer to the Wistar Institute, a body of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and number 38 to the foetus from which the cells were obtained. The MRC-5 cells were obtained in 1966 from the lungs of a 14-week male foetus… [t]he initials MRC indicate Medical Research Council, a body from London.”

In layman’s terms, over 50 years ago, scientists took cells from preborn humans killed by abortion and created “immortalized cell-lines” in vitro, which means they developed the cells outside of a natural context.  These cells were then used to develop various vaccines.

Regarding the leading COVID-19 vaccines, on the question of the use of cells derived from preborn humans who were killed by abortion decades ago, the Charlotte Lozier Institute recently stated that: “CLI’s expert scientific analysis finds that many leading vaccine candidates supported by Operation Warp Speed do not use abortion-derived cell lines in their production.”

Unfortunately, six of the eight major drug manufacturers did use cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue for the development of their COVID-19 vaccines. The other two are unknown.

Several religious organizations, from the Southern Baptist Convention to The Gospel Coalition to the Roman Catholic Church have weighed in on the morality of Christian, pro-life individuals receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. A memo from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to bishops across America sums up the general consensus of many religious organizations:

Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them.  This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching. … The Pontifical Academy does call for the appropriate expressions of protest against the origins of these vaccines as well as for vigorous efforts to promote the creation of alternatives. “There remains a moral duty to continue to fight and employ every lawful means to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.” The Pontifical Academy adds, however, that public health must not be sacrificed, “The burden of this important battle cannot and must not fall on innocent children and on the health situation of the population.

For front-line workers and others who will be first “in line” to receive COVID-19 vaccines, the Charlotte Lozier Institute has released a simple chart and more detailed information regarding the development and production of the vaccines receiving Operation Warp Speed Funding or that have sought FDA approval for emergency use.

Please continue to follow the Illinois Right to Life blog for more information as this situation unfolds.