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LIFE DIGEST: Pressure mounts on Bush to lift stem cell ban


WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush is standing firm, a spokesman says, as pressure continues for him to permit destructive research on human embryos.

In the wake of a letter signed by nearly half the members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a majority of the Senate has signed on to a request asking Bush to revise his order barring federal funds for embryonic stem cell research, The Boston Globe reported June 2. The letter has accumulated the signatures of 56 of 100 senators and is still being circulated before its release, according to The Globe. The signers include 13 Republican senators, among them Trent Lott of Mississippi, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the newspaper reported.

A White House spokesman told The Globe the president has not changed his mind, saying Bush “continues to believe strongly that we should not cross a fundamental moral line of funding or encouraging the destruction of human embryos.”

In late April, 206 House members, including 36 Republicans, sent a letter to the president asking him to change his policy. The House has 435 members. Ten days later, Nancy Reagan made her latest public endorsement of embryonic stem cell research at a Hollywood fundraiser.

In response to the House letter, Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote May 14 to report that Bush still opposes government funds for such experimentation.

In August 2001, Bush issued an order barring federal grants for stem cell research that results in the destruction of embryos. The procurement of stem cells from an embryo only days old brings about the death of the tiny human being.


In his 2001 order, Bush permitted funding for research on the colonies of existing stem cells in which, as he put it, “the life-and-death decision has already been made.” It turned out there were only about 20 such colonies, far fewer than expected.

Though the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations oppose embryonic stem cell research, they support the non-harmful use of stem cells from such sources as placentas, umbilical cord blood and adult bone marrow. The use of stem cells from those sources has already produced therapeutic results in some cases.

Stem cells are primitive cells from which cells and tissues in the human body develop. Their discovery in 1998 has provided hope for treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes.

In other stem cell news:

— The journal Nature Cell Biology reported June 1 that researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have found stem cells from bone marrow can quickly transform into healthy liver cells and assist in the repair of that organ, according to www.scienceblog.com.

— A California initiative to provide nearly $3 billion in state funds for stem cell research will be on the ballot in November, it was announced June 3. Supporters of the bond initiative, titled the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, submitted more than 1 million signatures, twice as many as needed, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. If approved, the measure would make $295 million in state funds available each year for 10 years, according to the report.

BUSH, KERRY ON RULING –- The reactions of the two parties’ presidential candidates to the June 1 decision by a federal judge to strike down the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act offered a clear contrast.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan issued this statement on the day of the ruling: “Partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that must be ended once and for all. The President strongly disagrees with today’s California court ruling, which overturns the overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress that voted to pass this important legislation. The President is committed to building a culture of life in America and the administration will take every necessary step to defend this law in the courts.”

Meanwhile, Stephanie Cutter, spokeswoman for the John Kerry campaign, released this statement: “John Kerry voted to restrict late-term abortions but only where there was a clear exception for life or health of women. However, George Bush pushed through a different piece of legislation that failed to protect the health of women, and that is what the court struck down today. When John Kerry is president he will appoint judges that are committed to upholding the Constitution, not pursuing an ideological agenda.”

Federal judge Phyllis Hamilton invalidated the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, saying it is: (1) An “undue burden” on a woman’s right to have an abortion in the second trimester; (2) “unconstitutionally vague” and (3) needs an exception for the mother’s health to meet requirements established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hamilton permanently blocked enforcement of the law but applied that injunction only to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates, the city and county of San Francisco, and their representatives.

Opponents of the law also challenged it in federal courts in New York and Lincoln, Neb. The judges in those cases have yet to issue opinions. Closing arguments in Lincoln occurred June 2, and federal judge Richard Kopf said he expects to issue his opinion Aug. 31, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Federal judge Richard Casey in New York has scheduled final arguments in his court for June 22.

Supporters of the ban oppose a health exception because it would establish a loophole that would leave the law with little, if any, power. In its 1973 decisions legalizing abortion, the Supreme Court defined maternal health so liberally it had the practical effect of permitting abortion for any reason throughout all stages of pregnancy.

The law also declares in its findings the partial-birth method is neither safe for women nor necessary to preserve their health, based on the testimony of doctors. It includes an exception to protect the mother’s life.

PRO-LIFE WORKER SETTLES -– A former secretary for an Illinois health department has settled out of court, gaining some measure of victory after she sued her employer for penalizing her for being pro-life.

The DeKalb County Health Department agreed to pay Faith Moncivaiz $40,000 to settle her claims while not acknowledging liability in the case, the American Center for Law and Justice announced May 27. The ACLJ represented Moncivaiz in the case.

Moncivaiz alleged the health department had violated her freedom of speech and religion. Her suit also contended the department had discriminated against her religious views under federal and state law. She alleged her employer denied her a promotion from a part-time to a fulltime secretarial position because she voiced her reluctance to take part in abortion counseling with clients.

“Public and private employers need to know that pro-life employees enjoy legal protection under existing federal and state laws,” ACLJ senior counsel Francis Manion said in a written release.