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Dispute over fetal tissue research could cost Pitt students thousands of dollars, lawmaker says

Republican lawmakers defend plan to tie student tuition assistance to fetal research
Republican lawmakers defend plan to tie student tuition assistance to fetal research 02:31

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - A local state representative says Pennsylvania students at the University of Pittsburgh and their families are being held hostage over an unrelated issue that has upset some lawmakers.

It's an issue that could cost some Pitt students thousands of dollars in higher tuition this fall.

Every year, five universities, including Pitt, Penn State and Temple get around $508 million from the state legislature in the annual budget so they can reduce their tuition costs to in-state Pennsylvania students.

But that could disappear in the upcoming academic year.

"Pennsylvania students and their families are being held hostage by the state legislature here, and it's shameful," says Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Frankel, a Squirrel Hill Democrat.

On Monday, on a mostly party-line vote, state House Republicans voted to deny state tuition assistance to students and families at any of these universities that engaged in fetal tissue research using material derived from elective abortions.

"If you are going to do these evil things, I don't believe you should get any money from the state of Pennsylvania," Pennsylvania Rep. Jerry Knowles, a Schuylkill County Republican, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

Knowles authored the bill that every local Republican state House member supported, except Rep. Lori Mizgorski, a Shaler Republican.

Frankel, who sits on Pitt's board of trustees, said without this state aid, student costs would shoot up dramatically.

"Cost of in-state tuition for Pennsylvania students would go up between $12,000 and $14,000 a year," says Frankel, "so you're talking about $50,000 to $60,000 over the course of a 4-year college education."

Frankel says none of the state money goes for fetal research. That's funded by federal dollars. The state money, nearly $160 million for Pitt, he says, goes solely to reduce tuition for Pennsylvania students.

"All of that money goes to tuition for Pennsylvania students. Every single penny of it. None of it is related to any other aspect of the university," says Frankel. "The University of Pittsburgh receives over $800 million a year of federal dollars to do this biomedical research that addresses all kinds of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, also HIV aids. Jonas Salk utilized it to cure polio."

Knowles says universities just shift money around, citing an example of a hundred dollars in both pockets, one from the state and the other not.

"I take that hundred dollars in my left pocket that I got from somewhere else, and I use it on evil experimentation," says Knowles, "and then I take the money from the right pocket, and I move it over to the left pocket."

Both Knowles and local GOP lawmakers say the door is open for fetal research using cells from miscarriages and abortions needed to save a woman's life.

"This balanced approach preserves our college students' state assisted tuition, while also protecting the conscience of the many citizens," state Rep. Rob Mercuri, a Republican, said in a statement.

State Rep. Valerie Gaydos, a Republican, said she is not trying to cut funding for students, saying in a statement, "I fully support lower tuition for in-state residents and will be supporting continued funding to the University of Pittsburgh to do so."

But Democrats said the best way to guarantee that was to drop the bill.

"I urge my friends to pull back," said state Rep. Dan Miller, a Mt. Lebanon Democrat. "Take their argument to a different arena. Don't add something into students' education costs, family costs. It's like another tax bill that's going to hit down on middle class families. This is not the line item to create problems with."

Sources tell KDKA the Senate is not likely to approve the House restrictions, but anything can happen during these budget negotiations.  

Lawmakers' dispute over fetal tissue research could costs students thousands of dollars 02:43
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