Ascension Health — one of the largest Catholic and largest nonprofit health systems in the U.S. which operates Racine County’s largest hospital, Ascension All Saints — will still provide the one-shot COVID-19 vaccine produced by Janssen/Johnson & Johnson even though some Christian groups and a small number of American Catholic bishops are vocally opposed to it.
The reason for that opposition is because aborted fetus cells were used in production of the vaccine. As such, the vaccine itself (the fluid injected into people’s arms) contains no part of an aborted fetus, but it was tested and developed using cells developed from a fetus aborted more than 30 years ago in the Netherlands, according to the company.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the third approved by the FDA for use in the U.S., but is the first that involved this method of using cells from an aborted fetus in production.
The Journal Times asked Ascension Health if it would still provide the J&J vaccine when it becomes available despite Ascension being Catholic-affiliated. An Ascension Wisconsin spokesperson replied in an email “In regards to COVID-19 vaccines, including the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine, we are following the guidance of the Catholic Health Association.”
The Catholic Health Association advises that the “it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson, as well as Pfizer and Moderna. CHA encourages Catholic health organizations to distribute the vaccines developed by these companies.”
Ascension Wisconsin operates 23 hospitals in Wisconsin and has more than 110 clinics across the state.
Why are there concerns?
The concerns about links between abortions and the J&J vaccine started making headlines on Feb. 26 when the Archdiocese of New Orleans issued a statement calling on Catholics to not receive that vaccine.
That statement claimed that J&J’s “use of morally compromised cell lines” was grounds for Catholics to refuse receiving the J&J vaccine and instead should opt for Pfizer or Moderna, even though under current vaccination rollout rules recipients don’t know ahead of time which vaccine they will receive.
“We maintain that the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of individual conscience in consultation with one’s healthcare provider. We also maintain that in no way does the Church’s position diminish the wrongdoing of those who decided to use cell lines from abortions to make vaccines. In doing so, we advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines,” the statement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans concluded.
However, that archdiocese’s position breaks from the majority of Catholic leadership. In December, foreseeing concerns being raised, the Vatican said that the good brought about by the vaccines outweighed its ethical concerns about the use of aborted fetuses’ cells being used to create a vaccine.
“In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination,” a statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said. “Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.”