Media

Fact Checks On Justice Thomas, Abortion And COVID Vaccines Fall Apart Under Scrutiny

(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
Font Size:

Major news outlets rushed to fact-check Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Thursday, but made errors of their own in the process.

Axios, Politico and NBC News all ran fact-checks which said Thomas claimed in a dissent that COVID-19 vaccines were made with cells from aborted fetuses. The outlets said the claim was false, but Thomas actually claimed the vaccines were developed using fetal tissue, which is true.

The Court opted not to hear a case challenging New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The workers were seeking a religious exemption provision in the mandate, but the Supreme Court voted 6-3 not to hear their case. In his dissent, Thomas wrote “They object on religious grounds to all available COVID–19 vaccines because they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.”

For one, Thomas was characterizing the argument of the petitioners, not necessarily his own. But more importantly, the statement is correct.

The media outlets characterized Thomas’ dissent as false because the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. aren’t made with cells from aborted children. However, Thomas wrote that they were developed in research that used aborted fetuses, which is accurate. According to Science, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was developed using a fetal cell line developed from retinal cells from a fetus electively aborted in 1985.

Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines also do not contain fetal cells, but used fetal cell line HEK 293 as part of their development process to test how the vaccines would behave in humans, according to the University of Nebraska Medical Center. HEK 293 is a fetal cell line deriving from an aborted baby in the Netherlands in 1973. (RELATED: Rex Chapman Posts Racist Tweets About Mixed-Race Couples, Clarence Thomas And Basketball)

There has been ample debate among pro-life groups and activists about whether it is acceptable for pro-life Americans to take the vaccines knowing that they are linked, albeit distantly, to an abortion carried out decades ago. However, it is not in dispute that the development of the vaccines was made possible, in part, by an abortion.

Axios slightly altered its piece to reflect that Thomas was referring to fetal cell lines, not cells themselves, but kept the post up. NBC News has kept its original fact-check up. Politico corrected its piece to reflect that Thomas was citing the petitioners’ stance, not his own, but still claimed to debunk him.