This morning the Washington Post reports that Senate leaders have struck a deal and will move ahead with a vote on stem cell research legislation that allows federal funding for embryo-destroying stem cell research. No doubt, the votes exist in the Senate to pass this legislation by a considerable margin and it enjoys the support of both Harry Reid and Bill Frist. Frist says a vote will likely take place in July.
This is a terrible, terrible idea. President Bush has made his intention to veto any such legislation crystal clear:
“The president does not believe we are forced to choose between science and ethics,” said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius, adding that the legislation “crosses an important moral line.” The president, he said, “would veto legislation that crosses this moral line.”
So why schedule a vote? You know the President is going to veto it and you know the House does not have the votes to override the veto.
Some Republicans in the Senate who are vehemently against this kind of stem cell research have tacitly allowed the agreement to go forward because it mandates a 3 construct piece of legislation.
The Senate package, announced by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and quickly agreed to by Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), has three components. At its core is H.R. 810, the House-passed bill, which would allow fertility clinic patients to donate their spare embryos to federally financed researchers.
Also included are two bills sought by conservatives, which stem cell research proponents have said they can support. One, sponsored by Pennsylvania GOP Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, encourages the National Institutes of Health to finance work that might someday allow scientists to produce cells equivalent to embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos.
The other, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and known as the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act, would make it a crime for anyone to trade in tissues from fetuses that were conceived and aborted expressly for research purposes.
OK, it’s nice that these two pieces of legislation are tacked on. But those two items are so uncontroversial that the Senate could pass them stand alone. Are pro-lifers in the Senate really getting anything by packaging this vehemently anti-pro-life bill with two non-controversial pro-life bills? I think not.
But more important, pro-lifers in general need to think about the ramifications of passing this bill in the Senate.
Do people really think that passing this three bill construct will be a win for the life issue? Or even a wash? No, it will be a loss because the only story that the media will carry will be about the President exercising his FIRST EVER VETO. And what was his first ever veto used on? A politically popular stem cell research bill. The media will carry the Democratic arguments accusing the President of being heartless and not caring about people with diseases like diabates and alzheimers.
It will also be a loss because the debate surrounding this issue is inherently difficult for pro-lifers to make. Pro-lifers believe life begins at conception, and the winning of that argument depends in large part on the ability to persuade people as to the humanity of the unborn child. When the Senate debated partial birth abortion, it was a resounding success for pro-lifers because it was so obvious to the observer that the disgusting practice was violating a human form complete with all the physical characteristics needed to distinguish a person. Now, the stem cell research bill shifts that debate to being about life in its most nascent cellular form. The latter debate is not as instructive as the former.
Finally, the scheduling of this vote will split the Republican caucus in the Senate: pitting some ardently pro-life conservatives against their leadership.
Republicans in the Senate who are so eager to schedule this vote need to rethink what they are doing. They are setting their President, and therefore themselves, up for a political disaster and sadly, they don’t seem to care.