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Life on the Ballot

Ads address interest in stem cells

BY TOM McFEELY

Contributing Editor

October 1-7, 2006 Issue | Posted 9/27/06 at 11:00 AM

 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Voters in Missouri will decide Nov. 7 whether to allow the democratic process to go forward when it comes to the question of stem-cell research.

A human embryo is a unique boy or girl from conception to eight weeks, with DNA, life-expectancy — and the right to life. Amendment 2, if approved by voters, would amend the state’s constitution to prohibit lawmakers from protecting those embryos from research scientists who test and kill them in labs.

Well-heeled supporters of the initiative are sparing no expense. Proponents hope for financial benefits to the state if such research is allowed. The state’s AFL-CIO chapter has come out in favor of the measure. And observers say success in the campaign will encourage other states, such as Kansas, to go forward with embryonic stem-cell research.

While the political battle rages, an educational effort is underway. Missouri-based Vitae Caring Foundation has worked successfully for more than 15 years to change the hearts and minds of Americans about abortion.

The foundation doesn’t involve itself in politics. But the climate in the country has created a great interest in the issues surrounding embryo-destroying research, and Vitae is conducting a media campaign to explain what’s really involved in such experiments.

 “The abortion issue is one of those fronts on which we fight for the culture of life,” said Carl Landwehr, Vitae Caring Foundation’s president. “Stem cells are a second — there are others, but stem cells are a very current, hotly debated issue nationwide.”

Since 1990, Vitae has been involved in researching, producing and distributing pro-life ads designed to change attitudes regarding abortion. The foundation draws upon modern market-research tools, such as focus groups and polling, to determine what is driving the attitudes of its target audiences, such as young women considering abortions. It then specifically tailors its ads to speak persuasively to the people the ads are intended to influence.

Often, the outcome is advertising emphasizing a substantially different message than traditional pro-life themes. In addressing women at risk for abortion, Vitae discovered that stressing that abortion ends a baby’s life has little impact, as most expectant mothers considering abortions already understand this reality.

So Vitae’s ads instead address the attitudes and fears that drive such women to have abortions even though they know they are killing their own children, by techniques like pointing out that an unexpected pregnancy need not result in personal disaster for women who keep their babies.

Results

Vitae’s ads have proven powerful in changing attitudes. Landwehr cited a current media campaign in Atlanta, where the first five weeks of airing Vitae’s ads has resulted in 1,400 calls from women seeking referrals to pregnancy centers.

Vitae’s ads also have been effective in swinging overall attitudes toward pro-life perspectives. A recent campaign in Seattle resulted in a 13% increase in the percentage of women who define abortion as immoral, according to pre- and post-campaign polling.

And Landwehr noted that the two states where the Vitae Foundation has been most active in running its ads, Missouri and Wisconsin, currently have the lowest number of abortions recorded in those states in the last 30 years.

Vitae’s contribution to the stem-cell debate is to run educational ads. To explain the issues in play in stem-cell research, Vitae has aired TV commercials and launched a new website (www.stemcellresearchfacts.com). Two of Vitae’s stem-cell video ads are posted on the website.

Landwehr said the ads counter misinformation being spread through the media. “We have a massive media hole to dig ourselves out of,” he said.

Many Missourans were unaware that so-called “early” stem-cell research actually involves embryo-killing procedures, Landwehr said.

Another misunderstood fact is that all current medical treatments involving stem cells utilize adult cells, not ones derived from embryos.

Some backers of Amendment 2 have also claimed it would prevent human cloning. However, Donn Rubin, chairman of the coalition organized to promote Amendment 2, acknowledges that it would only prevent human clones from being implanted and allowed to develop and be born.

“Clone-and-kill” research, employing cells from cloned embryos specifically created and then destroyed for experimentation, would not be restricted.

But according to Rubin, who is the executive director of a biotechnology lobby group in St. Louis, it’s wrong to argue that the destruction of embryos for use in stem-cell experiments is equivalent to abortion.

Rubin complained that groups opposing the amendment are “trying to confuse people that stem-cell research, which involves microscopic cells in a lab dish, not part of a pregnancy, that really is about abortion. “It has nothing to do with abortion.”

Pope John Paul II specifically linked embryonic stem-cell research with abortion when speaking with President Bush at Castel Gandolfo in July 2001.

Said John Paul, “Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process.”

Missouri’s Bishops

Deacon Larry Weber, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, says Vitae’s ads are playing an important role in pro-life efforts to explain the negative consequences of embryonic stem-cell research.

Missouri’s Catholic bishops are mounting a concerted effort to educate voters about stem-cell issues and about Amendment 2. The conference has a webpage devoted to the issue (www.mocatholic.org/StemCell-Cloning/SCHCDex.htm), with links to material discussing the life-destroying realities of embryonic research and outlining Church teachings against it.

Each of the state’s four bishops also spoke out against embryonic stem-cell research.

The pro-life efforts are paying off.

“We have seen movement in state polling which tends to indicate that some voters who previously supported the amendment now oppose it,” Weber said. “We can only attribute that to voter education.”

Both Weber and Landwehr say that the outcome of the Missouri initiative is crucial nationally. Unlike California, the only state to have amended its constitution to authorize human cloning for research, Missouri is a strongly pro-life state and a victory for Amendment 2 could be cited as proof of a national consensus in favor of embryonic research.

Missouri is right here in the middle of the Bible Belt and has traditionally been a very strongly pro-life state,” Weber said. “We think it’s important to stop this movement in its tracks here in Missouri.”

Tom McFeely is based in

Victoria, British Columbia.