Fact Check: Clarence Thomas Did NOT Claim 'Aborted Fetus Cells' Are In COVID Vaccines In Decision Not To Take Up Challenge To NY Vaccine Mandate

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: Clarence Thomas Did NOT Claim 'Aborted Fetus Cells' Are In COVID Vaccines In Decision Not To Take Up Challenge To NY Vaccine Mandate No Q There

Did Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas claim "aborted fetus cells" are in COVID vaccines in writing a decision by the Court to not take up a legal challenge by New York health care workers who opposed the state's vaccine mandate on religious grounds? No, that's not true: Thomas was quoting the petitioners' argument in the case. COVID vaccines are developed and tested using cells grown from cells originally isolated from aborted fetuses.

The claims appeared in a tweet (archived here) published on June 30, 2022. It opened:

Justice Thomas cited QAnon propaganda about covid vaccines having 'aborted fetus cells' in his dissent to SCOTUS refusing to accept a challenge by health care workers who opposed NY's vaccine mandate--& Alito & Gorsuch joined his dissent.

QAnon is officially running US SCOTUS.😳

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Q Tweet.png

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Fri Jul 1 22:15:54 2022 UTC)

Thomas cited the claim by petitioners in a dissent to the Supreme Court's refusal to take up a challenge by health care workers who opposed New York's vaccine mandate on religious grounds. In the dissent, the justice says:

Petitioners are 16 healthcare workers who served New York communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They object on religious grounds to all available COVID-19 vaccines because they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.

Separately, it is true, not QAnon propaganda, that COVID vaccines are developed using aborted fetus cells. The vaccines don't contain the cells but the cells are used during development and testing. The UCLA Health website says:

Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells?

No, the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells. However, Johnson & Johnson did use fetal cell lines -- not fetal tissue -- when developing and producing their vaccine, while Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines to test their vaccines and make sure that they work.

Fetal cell lines are grown in a laboratory and were started with cells from elective abortions that occurred several decades ago in the 1970s-80s. They are now thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue. None of the COVID-19 vaccines use fetal cells derived from recent abortions.

We understand this is a sensitive issue, and specifically important to religious communities. We'd like to provide some additional context on this topic. On Jan. 27, the California Catholic Conference noted in an official statement that they support the use of all COVID-19 vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19. Pope Francis also publicly supported COVID-19 vaccination and the Vatican has issued a statement saying it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.

The Nebraska Medicine website includes similar information, attributed to Dr. James Lawler:

No, the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells. However, fetal cell lines - cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected generations ago - were used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines, and during production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. ...

When it comes to the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, fetal cell line HEK 293 was used during the research and development phase. All HEK 293 cells are descended from tissue taken from a 1973 abortion that took place in the Netherlands. Using fetal cell lines to test the effectiveness and safety of medications is common practice, because they provide a consistent and well-documented standard.

Lead Stories debunked an earlier claim that cells from an aborted male fetus are in the COVID-19 vaccine.


  • 2022-07-05T23:04:36Z 2022-07-05T23:04:36Z
    Updated to shorten the headline, emphasizing the essentials

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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