News Articles

LIFE DIGEST: Senate stem cell vote delayed until 2006; Mo. clinic closes; inmate obtains abortion with state’s help

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate apparently will not vote until next year on legislation that would liberalize President Bush’s policy barring federal funds for stem cell research that destroys embryos.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., sponsor of a bill to permit grants for research on embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics, announced Oct. 21 Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had promised to bring the measure up early in 2006. Bob Stevenson, Frist’s communications director, said the majority leader had not made a final commitment to Specter, but the two have reached an understanding there will be a vote early next year, The New York Times reported.

After Frist stunningly endorsed legislation in late July undercutting the Bush policy, it appeared the Senate would vote on the measure shortly after it returned in September from a five-week recess. No such vote occurred, and Specter threatened to attach the bill to a spending measure. He eventually decided not to with much Senate business remaining this year and a promise from Frist for a vote next year, according to The Times.

The delay is a hopeful development, a pro-life bioethicist said.

“This is actually good news,” said C. Ben Mitchell, a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a bioethics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. “Were the Senate to vote today, it would get it wrong. Perhaps by next year, we will have convinced more of the senators that human embryos do not have to be killed for stem cell research to go forward.”

Bush, whose policy allows funding for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence prior to his 2001 announcement of that rule, has pledged to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Specter has said he thinks he will be able to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto, but an override appears unlikely in the House of Representatives. The House approved the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 810, with a 238-194 vote in May.

At this point, the extraction of stem cells from an embryo, normally in the first week of life, requires the tiny human being’s destruction.

Embryonic stem cell research has failed to produce any successful therapies in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals. Meanwhile, research on stem cells from non-embryonic sources has produced treatments for at least 65 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

Many opponents of embryonic stem cell research contend the House-approved bill providing funds only for research on leftover IVF embryos is the first step in a path that will lead to the cloning of embryos for research purposes.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. In addition to being extracted from embryos, the cells may be found in such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, fat and placentas, as well as umbilical cord blood.

ONE LESS CLINIC -– The sole abortion clinic in Springfield, Mo., has closed, leaving southwest Missouri without an abortion provider.

The board of Springfield Healthcare Center voted Oct. 19 to cease operations, the Springfield News-Leader reported. Clinic administrator Michelle Turner-Collins denied the decision was based on a new state law restricting abortion or on threats, a poor safety record or finances, according to the newspaper.

Turner-Collins told the News-Leader, however, “They’re saying that the environment here in Missouri is so hostile that it’s just so difficult to continue to jump through the hoops that they keep putting forward.”

A new Missouri law, which has been temporarily barred from enforcement, requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, according to the News-Leader. The doctor at the Springfield clinic did not have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, the newspaper reported.

The clinic asked 10 to 15 doctors in Springfield, as well as some outside the city, to perform abortions, but all rejected the requests, Turner-Collins told the newspaper.

“Wow,” Dave Plemmons, chairman of the Springfield chapter of Missouri Right to Life, told the News-Leader when he learned of the clinic’s closing. “They’re tired of fighting. We’re really pleased. We consider this a big blessing, for whatever reason it occurred.”

The nearest abortion clinics for women in southwest Missouri now are in St. Louis; Columbia; Fayetteville, Ark.; Wichita, Kan.; and Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City.

The Springfield clinic’s closing continues a trend that has occurred for more than two decades. Since 1982, the number of sites providing abortions has been declining. As of 2000, there were 1,819 abortion providers, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. In the same year, 87 percent of United States counties did not have an abortion provider, AGI reported.

PRISON BABY ABORTED -– A Missouri inmate had an abortion Oct. 20 after winning a court battle to overcome a state law.

The unidentified woman, who was about 17 weeks pregnant, had the abortion in St. Louis, about 80 miles from a Vandalia, Mo., prison in which she is an inmate, the Associated Press reported. She had said she could pay for the abortion but could not afford transportation. Prison officials refused to assist her, citing a Missouri law that bans state money from funding abortions.

After the state rejected her request, the inmate filed suit. Federal judge Dean Whipple ruled Oct. 13 the state must assist her in acquiring the abortion. Upon appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block the abortion. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, however, who oversees emergency appeals from the Eighth Circuit, temporarily blocked the abortion Oct. 14, providing the entire high court the opportunity to respond.

On Oct. 17, the Supreme Court issued an order announcing it declined to review the lower court decision, clearing the way for the abortion. The high court’s order came without comment on the merits of the case and without any recorded dissent,

Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, “remains disappointed in the court actions that compelled the state’s involvement,” Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson told AP.

The cost for fuel and two guards to escort the inmate was about $350, according to AP. The abortion took place at a Planned Parenthood clinic, according to LifeNews.com.
With reporting by Michael Foust of Baptist Press and Allen Palmeri of The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.