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N.J. embryonic stem cell proposal defeated

TRENTON, N.J. (BP)–New Jersey citizens delivered an historic blow to embryonic stem cell research Nov. 6 when pro-lifers teamed up with anti-debt and anti-tax voters to defeat a $450 million bond proposal that would have borrowed money to fund the controversial research.

It was a surprising outcome for the ballot question, which led in pre-election polls but lost on election night, 53-47 percent. New Jersey became the first state to defeat an embryonic stem cell proposal at the ballot box, after California voters in 2004 passed a $3 billion research initiative and Missouri voters in 2006 OK’d a constitutional amendment protecting embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine had promoted the proposal heavily, even spending $150,000 to $200,000 of his own money to help fund ads featuring Michael J. Fox, an embryonic stem cell research supporter.

But opponents fought back, with the New Jersey Right to Life recording a commercial featuring a paralyzed man in a wheelchair urging a vote against the proposal, saying such research had yet to produce any cures and that borrowing money was irresponsible, especially since private enterprise has not seen the research worthy to fund to such a degree. Pro-lifers said they supported stem cell research as long as it didn’t involve embryos.

The fact that the state already has $30 billion in debt no doubt led thousands of voters to oppose the proposal, known as Question 2. The fine print stated that sales and property taxes could have been used to pay off the bonds. Americans for Prosperity, an organization that supports limited government and free markets, spent $450,000 to urge voters to oppose the question.

Len Deo, president of the pro-family New Jersey Family Policy Council, said the coalition of various factions made the difference. It was the first time in 17 years voters defeated a statewide initiative. They also defeated a separate question the same night.

“We were coming at it from the moral issue — that destroying embryos was morally wrong,” Deo told Baptist Press. “Americans for Prosperity went at it strictly as an economic issue — that borrowing $450 million when a state already is in debt and projecting a $3 billion deficit next year is just insanity to the highest degree.”

Although the initiative would have banned reproductive cloning, it apparently would have allowed funding for therapeutic cloning — that is, so-called “clone-and-kill” research that clones embryos simply to destroy them and harvest the stem cells.

New Jersey Right to Life Executive Director Marie Tasy called the outcome a “large grassroots effort.”

“Groups were united,” she told BP. “You had the pro-life community, who was very, very much motivated. The faith community came out. The Catholic Church was very active. And you also had the anti-tax people who also were very motivated. I think that all those people together presented a unified front and delivered a resounding defeat on this ballot question. … It is a very strong rebuke to the governor”

Pro-lifers argued that such research is immoral but also a big gamble. After being formed, the $3-billion California stem cell institute issued a report saying any cures using embryonic stem cells likely were well over 10 years away. In fact, that report said the goal simply was to “have some therapies in clinical development” at the 10-year mark.

“The bottom line from our perspective is this: Government should not be involved — no way, no how — in doing things that the private industry should be doing,” Deo said. “Private industry is doing stem cell research — but on adult stem cells, because adult stem cells are providing cures.”

Adult stem cells, sometimes called non-embryonic stem cells, have produced treatments for at least 73 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Unlike embryonic stem cells, they can be harvested in ethical ways from, for instance, umbilical cord blood and cells within an adult’s body.

Deo applauded New Jersey churches for “educating their congregations” about stem cell research.

“I think that showed that when the church speaks to the moral issues, people will listen and respond,” he said.

Elsewhere, Texas voters approved $3 billion in bonds for cancer research. Although some pro-lifers backed the measure, others opposed it, saying the money could be used for embryonic stem cell research. Supporters said the money wouldn’t go toward such research, although they acknowledged there was nothing in the initiative’s language to prevent it. It passed, 63-27 percent.
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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