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ERLC asks congressional leaders to make cloning ban a priority

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has asked the leaders of both houses of Congress to make a complete ban on human cloning a priority in the new session.

In a Jan. 7 letter, ERLC President Richard Land asked new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to introduce comprehensive bans on cloning as bills S. 1 and H.R. 1, respectively. Land’s request came on the first day of the 108th Congress.

Citing the recent announcement by Clonaid of the birth of a clone, Land told the leaders, “Even if this particular story is a hoax, the next one might not be. It is critical that Congress move immediately to enact a complete ban on all human cloning. We will work tirelessly to see that the bill is passed and signed into law” by President Bush.

The late December announcement that a clone had been born has intensified calls for Congress to act. While there is widespread skepticism that Clonaid, which is affiliated with the Raelian religious sect, has produced a successful clone, other organizations are working toward the same goal.

In the last session, the House of Representatives easily approved a prohibition on cloning for both reproductive and research purposes. The Senate, however, never voted on a ban. Supporters of a comprehensive ban were unable to produce enough votes.

By the end of the session, pro-life forces were relieved that a weaker prohibition had not gained passage. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., sponsored the only comprehensive ban, while several Democratic senators drafted versions that barred reproductive cloning only. Those bills would have permitted cloning in order to harvest embryonic stem cells for experimentation. Such research cloning results in the destruction of the young embryo.

Rep. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., sponsored the comprehensive ban that passed the House in the last session.

The ERLC and other organizations hope Frist, a surgeon, will provide the leadership to make adoption of a total cloning ban and other pro-life measures possible. The Senate’s only physician endorsed the comprehensive ban on cloning in the last Congress and has regularly voted for pro-life legislation, including a prohibition on partial-birth abortion. He supports research on existing colonies of embryonic stem cells, however.

“I think he does bring a special, sensitive perspective to the bioethical issues of the day,” said Shannon Royce, the ERLC’s director for government relations. “He brings a knowledge and expertise to those issues that we have not had before. My hope for him is that he will rise to this occasion, that he will prove himself to be a leader for this moment in history.”

In addition to a cloning ban, the ERLC’s other legislative priorities include confirmation of pro-life judges throughout the federal judiciary and adoption of several pro-life measures, including the partial-birth abortion ban, Child Custody Protection Act, Unborn Victims of Violence Act, Abortion Non-discrimination Act and restrictions on abortion funding.

Time will demonstrate how firm Frist’s allegiance to some pro-life positions will be as majority leader and how his close relationship with the White House will affect his guidance of the Senate. The previous GOP majority leader, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, also voted pro-life but sometimes demonstrated a willingness to compromise that did not please pro-life and pro-family advocates.

After the November election returned the GOP to the majority, Lott promised the Senate would pass a ban on partial-birth abortion, which involves the killing of an almost totally delivered baby. Lott never had an opportunity to follow through on his commitment. The Mississippi senator stepped down Dec. 20 after a firestorm over his comments that seemed to support past segregationist policies. Three days later, Republican senators elected Frist, a Tennesseean who is in his second term, to replace Lott.