- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

The nation's biggest pro-life lobbies swung behind President Bush's decision to allow limited federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research yesterday, blunting muted disappointment from Republican leaders and fierce opposition from smaller conservative grass-roots groups.
Although the news media and liberal pundits have been warning for weeks that Mr. Bush risked alienating his party's staunchly pro-life conservative base if he approved federal funds for stem-cell research, his decision not only satisfied major pro-life groups but even drew a partially favorable reaction from Catholic leaders.
The White House had been quietly vetting Mr. Bush's plan among key pro-life allies to make sure that it would have their support when the decision was announced Thursday night, according to an administration official.
At a news conference yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said that he met with a broad range of groups earlier in the day "and after they left, they were pretty much unanimous" in support of the president's plan.
Perhaps the most surprising response came from the National Right To Life Committee (NRLC), the nation's largest pro-life organization, which enthusiastically embraced the president's "decision to prevent the federal government from becoming involved in research and experimentation that would require the deliberate destruction of human embryos."
"In taking this position, the president has acted to save the lives that he could," said David N. O'Steen, executive director of the NRLC, which has 3,000 chapters nationwide and was a major ally in Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.
Endorsing the argument that Mr. Bush used to defend his decision to fund research only on 60 stem-cell lines from already-dead embryos in private labs, Mr. O'Steen said, "Neither President Bush nor the federal government had anything to do with the destruction of those embryos or the establishment of those cell lines."
Other pro-life leaders expressed similar support for the president's narrowly drawn research option and his opposition to unrestricted stem-cell research that would result in killing more embryos.
James C. Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, which has more than a million members, said Mr. Bush "faced tremendous political pressure to betray his pro-life commitment."
"He deserves praise from citizens who understand that it is never justified to destroy one life in order to possibly save another," he said.
Catholic leaders, a major political constituency that Mr. Bush has courted, praised much of his decision but worried about the moral implications that stem-cell research raised.
"There is much to support in the president's decision," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, who applauded Mr. Bush's declared opposition to human cloning, adding that his "restriction on funding further unlimited research is important."
"On the other hand, the president's decision unfortunately allows the allotment of federal funding — the money we pay in our taxes — for something many of us feel to be morally wrong. It opens the door to experimentation on human beings," the cardinal said.
But Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Coalition, said Mr. Bush had found "an elegant solution to the thorny issue," one that protected "the rights of the unborn, while allowing potentially life-saving research to go forward."
"We are content that President Bush has placed limits and would not allow any federal dollars to pay for the additional killing of human life," said Roberta Combs, the Christian Coalition's executive vice president.
There was mixed support from Republican congressional leaders who praised the limitations that Mr. Bush placed on funding for the research but said they feared that it eroded ethical barriers to experimentation on lab-created human embryos in the future.
"The president was right to prohibit federal funding to harvest and create new human embryos for research. But I am concerned that allowing taxpayer dollars to fund existing embryonic research may diminish respect for the sanctity of human life," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay and Rep. J. C. Watts Jr., chairman of the House Republican Conference, expressed similar misgivings about Mr. Bush's decision, but stressed their support for the sharp limitations he has placed on future federally funded research.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and a leader in the party's Pro-Life Caucus, called the decision "deeply disappointing" and "a mistake" that "however limited or defined, opens a new door that may be difficult to close."
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said he was pleased with the limitations on creating embryos to obtain more stem cells but was still "saddened by the president's decision" to use federal funds for any stem-cell research "derived from humans."
Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and a veteran pro-life leader, did not issue a statement. Neither did social conservative leader Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, who is politically close to Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser.
Yet other, smaller, conservative grass-roots groups condemned Mr. Bush's decision.
Phyllis Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum, noting that Mr. Bush had opposed embryonic stem-cell research in the campaign, said the president "broke his word to the American people."
"He made the right decision then but now has caved under pressure," she said.
Concerned Women for America said in a statement that the issue was "whether American taxpayers will be forced to be accomplices in research that encourages killing human beings."
Democrats, the medical research community and the American Medical Association largely cheered Mr. Bush's decision, but said it did not go far enough.
"President Bush's decision was a limited step in the right direction," said Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

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