- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

Abortion and embryonic stem-cell research suddenly appeared on the election landscape last week, but both presidential candidates mostly have steered clear of the contentious issues, despite the fact that President Bush and Sen. John Kerry hold diametrically opposed views.

During their Friday debate in St. Louis, Mr. Bush said “we’re not going to spend federal taxpayers’ money on abortion,” while Mr. Kerry said that as president he would not “deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the Constitution affords them if they can’t afford it otherwise.”

On embryonic stem-cell research, the Massachusetts senator Friday cited actor Christopher Reeve — who died two days later — in expressing support for “ethically guided” research using human pluripotent cells harvested from embryos. The president said ethics outweigh science, even though he approved a policy that allows federal funding for research using existing embryonic stem-cell lines.

Since Friday’s debate, however, Mr. Bush has mentioned neither issue, even though his position on the issue is strongly supported by his conservative base.

For his part, Mr. Kerry often mentions stem-cell research in his stump speeches, but rarely mentions abortion. When he does, he takes the tack voiced by the Democratic National Committee — that Mr. Bush will pack the Supreme Court with pro-life judges.

In answer to an audience member’s question Friday on federal funding for abortion, Mr. Kerry said that as a Catholic he opposes the practice, but as a public official he could not “take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith.” Mr. Bush drew laughter when he followed his opponent’s answer by saying: “Trying to decipher that.”

“I don’t think Kerry is straddling the fence at all,” said David Seldin, communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “It isn’t whether you think abortion’s right or wrong. It’s whether you think the government ought to be making that decision.”

Pro-choice groups are mounting an aggressive, coordinated campaign to oust Mr. Bush next month and elect Mr. Kerry.

“In addition to packing the courts, President Bush has filled his Cabinet and other high-level executive branch positions with anti-choice policy-makers,” NARAL says on its Web site.

“Given a second term, he undoubtedly will continue to appoint those hostile to choice, and may replace the few existing moderates with committed opponents of choice.”

But Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, noted that Mr. Bush said in the debate that he would have “no litmus test” when picking Supreme Court judges. Mr. Kerry, on the other hand, has vowed that if elected president, “I will support only pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court.”

“Kerry has a 100 percent rating from NARAL, has voted at least six times against the partial-birth abortion [ban], he’s voted at least 25 times in favor of using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions in the United States,” Mr. Stanzel said.

“John Kerry’s views on protecting the sanctity of life are well outside the mainstream,” he said.

Election pollster Frank Luntz said the Bush stance fared better than the Kerry stance during a focus group of voters gathered to view the second presidential debate.

“Bush was effective in his articulation of a position that has a minority of support in the country,” Mr. Luntz said, noting that viewers found the president’s language “reassuring and effective.”

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