JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Pro-lifers in Missouri won a major court victory Feb. 20 when a state judge rewrote the ballot language of a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban all types of human cloning.
Circuit Judge Patricia S. Joyce ruled that the ballot language submitted last fall by Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was “insufficient and unfair.” The lawsuit was brought by the pro-life group Cures Without Cloning, which sued Carnahan and argued that her proposed language was biased. The ballot language is the summary of the amendment that appears on the ballot.
The proposed amendment would overturn one of the most controversial elements of Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment narrowly approved by voters in 2006 that protects the legality of embryonic stem cell research in the state. Although the ballot language of the 2006 amendment said it would “ban human cloning,” the amendment’s fine print said otherwise. In fact, it stated that it would allow “somatic cell nuclear transfer” -– the scientific name for cloning and the same method used to clone Dolly the sheep. Under Amendment 2, cloning is legal as long as the cloned embryos aren’t implanted in a woman’s womb. Pro-lifers call the method “clone and kill” because the clones must be destroyed.
In reality, Amendment 2 allowed therapeutic cloning while banning reproductive cloning -– two types of cloning that differ only in the end result. The Cures Without Cloning amendment would ban both types of cloning while leaving the rest of Amendment 2 untouched. Carnahan’s proposed ballot language released last fall said the new amendment would “repeal the current ban on human cloning or attempted cloning” and “limit Missouri patients’ access to stem cell research, therapies and cures approved by voters in November 2006.”
Cures Without Cloning said Carnahan had turned the amendment on its head by stating the opposite of what it would do. The judge apparently agreed. Carnahan also wrote the much-debated ballot language for Amendment 2.
“This ruling proves what we’ve said along: That our clear, concise initiative would prohibit human cloning and the taxpayer funding of human cloning in Missouri,” Cures Without Cloning chairwoman Lori Buffa said in a statement. “We are pleased that the courts have upheld our challenge to Secretary of State Carnahan’s blatant attempt to mislead the Missouri voters with her inaccurate ballot summary.”
Judge Joyce rewrote the ballot language so that it says the proposed amendment would “change the definition of cloning” by “prohibiting human cloning that is conducted by creating a human embryo at any stage from the one-cell stage forward.”
Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the organization behind the 2006 amendment, said it was considering an appeal and would work to persuade Missourians not to support the new amendment. Cures Without Cloning must collect enough signatures from “registered voters to equal 8 percent of the votes cast in each of six of Missouri’s nine congressional districts in the last gubernatorial election,” the Missourian newspaper reported. Pro-lifers are concerned that appeals could delay and even kill the signature process.
The Missouri Baptist Convention is encouraging pastors and church members to sign petitions when they are circulated. The convention contributed $100,000 to the 2006 effort to defeat Amendment 2.
Pro-lifers in Missouri are battling not only the secretary of state and supporters of embryonic stem cell research, but also media members, some of whom refuse to call somatic cell nuclear transfer “cloning.” The Kansas City Star argued in an editorial Feb. 21 that somatic cell nuclear transfer does not by itself create a cloned embryo.
“Many biologists define a human embryo as the organism that develops beginning with implantation in a woman’s womb, which is when cells begin to differentiate into different types,” the editorial stated. “The disputed research procedure uses cells created in a lab dish to seek cures for diseases; implantation in a woman’s womb is specifically prohibited. Missouri voters are shrewd enough to recognize that copied cells in a lab dish are not synonymous with the cloning of a human being.”
But scientifically, SCNT is synonymous with cloning. The National Institutes of Health’s online stem cell glossary lists definitions for various research words. The glossary’s definition of cloning says simply, “See Somatic cell nuclear transfer.”
Scientists who support the current Missouri law have acknowledged in the past that SCNT and cloning are one and the same. At the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in October 2006, biologists urged supporters of Amendment 2 to use the phrase “somatic cell nuclear transfer” instead of “therapeutic cloning,” New Scientist magazine reported. The reason? The public is less likely to support any method that uses the term “cloning.”
The entire ballot language approved by Judge Joyce follows:
“Should the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the definition of cloning and ban some of the research as approved by voters in November, 2006 by:
“– prohibiting human cloning that is conducted by creating a human embryo at any stage from the one-cell stage forward;
“– prohibiting expenditure of taxpayer dollars on research or experimentation on human cloning; and
“– allowing stem cell research for therapies and cures that complies with these prohibitions and the prohibitions of Section 38(d) of the Constitution?”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.