WASHINGTON — Pro-lifers are girding up for their first legislative fight in the 110th Congress.

And they already know the battleground — a bid by congressional Democrats to authorize federal funding of life-destroying embryonic stem-cell research.

 “When you look at creating a culture of life, the embryonic stem-cell research issue is one of those tip-of-the-spear issues that we’ll have to push in order to usher in a culture of life,” said Carl Landwehr, president of the Vitae Caring Foundation, a Missouri-based pro-life educational foundation.

The issue has been hotly debated in Washington for several years. In August 2001, President Bush allowed federal funding for research that utilizes stem cell lines derived from embryos that had already been killed.

Under Bush’s policy, no federal money can be spent on research utilizing cells derived from embryos killed after Aug. 9, 2001.

Bush’s policy is opposed by most congressional Democrats and a substantial minority of Republicans. Last summer, Congress passed a bill to remove his restrictions. Bush vetoed that bill July 19.

“It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect,” the president said.

Embryonic stem-cell research, which involves the destruction of a unique human being in an attempt to develop therapies, has proven not only destructive and costly but has not produced a cure.

Adult stem-cell research, which utilizes cells from adult tissues or umbilical cords, does not require the destruction of human life. It has proven successful in treating different kinds of cancers and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The Democrats won enough seats in November to take control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Priority Issue

Both of the senior Democrats in the new Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, confirmed to the Register via e-mail that they are committed to re-introducing legislation to overturn Bush’s stem-cell policy.

But even if the bill passes, it will likely face another veto.

If so, there is little chance of Congress overriding Bush, according to Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. That’s because pro-lifers lost fewer than 15 votes in the House in November, leaving them well above the threshold required to sustain a presidential veto.

Public Opinion

Many observers suspect that Pelosi realizes she can’t assemble a veto-proof majority in the House but is pressing for a bill anyway to deliver a message that Americans support embryonic stem-cell research and therefore Bush ought to sign the bill.

Consequently, the decisive battle may be fought in the arena of public opinion, not Congress.

The Vitae Caring Foundation has produced pro-life television ads to raise awareness about what’sat stake in the stem-cell issue. They can be viewed at stemcellresearchfacts.com.

The foundation has also produced a short movie on the stem-cell issue that can be e-mailed to interested parties. It can be accessed at vitaecaringfoundation.org.

Vitae Caring’s Landwehr said that last fall’s initiative in Missouri in support of embryonic stem-cell research passed narrowly only because many voters were unaware that the initiative allows human cloning of embryos that will be killed to harvest stem cells.

Said Landwehr, “We are amazed at the number of people who would have voted differently had they known that.”

Doerflinger said the bishop’s pro-life secretariat is continuing its own public information efforts regarding embryonic stem-cell research.

The secretariat has already distributed more than one million copies of an insert entitled “Stem Cell Research and Cloning: Questions and Answers” for use in parish bulletins. It has also posted extensive information on its website, nccbuscc.org/prolife.

Taking Action

Doerflinger said the pro-life secretariat also plans to contact members of Congress individually and will probably commission an opinion poll in January.

Previous polls have found that the majority of Americans oppose embryonic stem-cell research once they know about its life-destroying character.

“Besides our own letters and fact sheets to Congress, the most important thing is hearing from their constituents back home,” said Doerflinger. “We will be encouraging Catholics to write to their elected representatives, saying that they don’t want their tax dollars used for this destructive purpose.”

Tom McFeely is based in

Victoria, British Columbia.

The Stem Cell 411

Adult Stem Cell Advantages

1. Special adult-type stem cells from       bone marrow and from umbilical cords appear to be as flexible as the embryonic type

2. Already somewhat specialized

3. Recipients who receive the products of their own stem cells will not experience immune rejection

4. Some adult stem cells are easy to harvest

5. Tend not to form tumors

Claimed Disadvantages,

Adult Stem Cells            

1. Can sometimes be difficult to obtain in large numbers

2. May not live as long as ES cells in culture

3. May be more difficult to reprogram to  form other tissue types

Claimed Advantages,

Embryonic Stem Cells

1. Flexible — appear to have the potential to make any cell

2. Immortal — one ES cell line can potentially provide an endless supply of cells with defined characteristics

3. Availability — embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics

Embryonic Stem Cell


1. Difficult to differentiate uniformly and homogeneously into a target tissue

2. ES cells from a random embryo donor are likely to be rejected after transplantation

3. Capable of forming tumors or promoting tumor formation

4. Obtained by killing human beings