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U.S. House Votes to Fund Embryo-Killing Research, 238-194; President Bush Vows Veto if Senate Also Approves

Jun 2, 2005 | 06-June 2005 NRL News

WASHINGTON (June 2, 2005) — Despite objections from NRLC and other pro-life groups, on May 24 the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill (H.R. 810) to provide federal funds for stem cell research that would require killing human embryos.

But if this bill emerges from the U.S. Senate – where it will face stiff resistance from some key senators – President Bush has vowed he will veto it.

The House passed the bill by a margin of 238 to 194, which was 50 votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be required to override a veto.

The President issued his veto warning days before the House took up the bill. As the House debated the measure he spoke at the White House to families that included children who had been adopted while they were still embryos, stored in the freezers of in vitro fertilization labs.

“The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo,” the President told the group. “Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but gifts.”

(To read the President’s complete remarks, click here.)

During the House floor debate, backers of the bill insisted that stem cells taken from human embryos were absolutely necessary to advance research that they said could lead to cures for a host of diseases. Many opponents argued that research using stem cells taken from other sources, such as adult tissues and umbilical cords, had already produced far more promising therapeutic results.

Backers of the bill argued that embryonic stem cell research was acceptable because it would utilize only embryos who had been created by in vitro fertilization to try to help establish pregnancies, but who were no longer needed for that purpose and therefore were destined to be discarded. The pro-life side argued that such embryos can be adopted by others, and in any event, the government should not be involved in the destruction of innocent human lives.

The prime sponsors of the bill are Reps. Mike Castle (R-De.) and Diana DeGette (D-Co.). The bill had a sufficient number of other Republican backers to obtain a floor vote even though the top House Republican leaders all voted against it, including Speaker Dennis Hastert (Il.), who usually does not vote. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tx.) led the floor fight against the measure.

Among the other legislators who worked hardest against the bill were Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Mike Pence (R-In.), Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Dan Lungren (R-Ca.).

Rep. Bart Stupak (Mi.) led a group of pro-life Democrats who opposed the bill.

“I believe that life begins at conception and that a human embryo is a human life,” said Pence. “I believe it is morally wrong to take the tax dollars of millions of pro-life Americans, who believe that human life is sacred, and use it to fund the destruction of human embryos for research.”

Also active in opposition to the measure were five pro-life Republican physician-legislators: Dave Weldon (Fl.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Michael Burgess (Tx.), Thomas Price (Ga.), and Charles Boustany (La.).

Fifty Republicans, 187 Democrats, and one independent voted for the bill. It was opposed by 180 Republicans and 14 Democrats. (The complete roll call, appears as vote no. 5 in the 2005 NRLC scorecard-to-date for the U.S. House of Representatives, here.)

Attention Turns to Senate

Immediately following the House’s approval of the bill, senators of both parties who support embryo-destructive stem cell research began agitating for a Senate floor vote on the bill, or on its Senate counterpart, S. 471, which is sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

At a May 25 press conference, Specter said, “I think if it really comes down to a showdown, we’ll have enough in the United States Senate to override a veto.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nv.) called President Bush “wrong politically, morally and scientifically” for opposing the legislation, and urged a fast up-or-down vote with no amendments.

But pro-life Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ks.) immediately put the Senate on notice that he would lead a concerted resistance to the bill.

If the bill comes to the floor, Brownback said on the Senate floor, “I intend that we are going to talk about it for a long time and address a whole series of issues, whether it be human cloning, which is associated with this human destructive legislation, or creation of human-animal crosses for research purposes. We are going to spend a lot of time discussing this because young human lives are at stake.”

Brownback and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) are the prime sponsors of legislation that would prohibit the creation of human embryos by cloning.

Stepping Stone to Human Cloning

Many opponents of H.R. 810 noted that the bill, while not providing funding for cloning, would promote research that is intended to act as a stepping stone to human cloning.

“Under the House-passed bill, human embryos would be killed by the very act of harvesting their stem cells for government-funded research,” commented NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “But that is just the beginning. The biotechnology industry is not satisfied with exploiting only so-called ‘leftover’ embryos donated by parents — in fact, they are already seeking to create human embryos by cloning, for the specific purpose of harvesting their parts for research. Unless Congress acts promptly to ban human cloning, as many other nations have already done, biotech labs will establish what President Bush in the past has called ‘human embryo farms.'”

Enactment of such a ban on human cloning takes on new urgency in the wake of a May 19 report that researchers in South Korea had, in 11 cases, “successfully” created a clone of a person with a disease, killed the cloned embryo, harvested stem cells, and started a cell line of tissue genetically like that of the clone’s parent-twin.

During the debate on the House floor, many supporters of H.R. 810 expressed approval of the South Korean experiments as a great advance in embryonic stem cell research.

Cord Blood Bill OKed

The House also approved, 431 to 1, the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act (H.R. 2520), sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), a bill to establish a new federal program to make stem cells extracted from umbilical cord blood available to patients who need them. This bill was endorsed by President Bush and by NRLC.

A White House statement on Smith’s bill said: “Cord-blood stem cells, collected from the placenta and umbilical cord after birth without doing harm to mother or child, have been used in the treatment of thousands of patients suffering from more than 60 different diseases, including leukemia, Fanconi anemia, sickle cell disease, and thalassemia. Researchers also believe cord-blood stem cells may have the capacity to be differentiated into other cell types, making them useful in the exploration of ethical stem cell therapies for regenerative medicine.”

For help in communicating with your senators in opposition to federal funding of embryo-destructive research and in favor of a ban on human cloning, click here.