- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

Recently, Sen. Bill Frist made two surprising announcements on the Senate floor. First, the Senate majority leader announced that he now supports expanding federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research (ESCR). Secondly, he announced that he does not intend to run for president in 2008.

Well, Mr. Frist didn’t exactly say that he won’t run in 2008, but he might as well have. Because if he sticks to his decision to back legislation that would publicly fund the destruction of embryos for experimentation, the senator will be turning his back on pro-life conservatives, thus dooming his 2008 presidential nomination chances.

Before his about-face on embryonic-stem-cell research, Mr. Frist had endeared himself to pro-lifers by standing up for Terri Schiavo and the president’s judicial nominees and against partial-birth abortion.

So, why has the Republican leader decided to capitulate on the protection of human life at its earliest stage? Perhaps Mr. Frist has been reading polls conducted over the past few months that suggest support among voters for pro-ESCR Republicans with an eye on the presidency.

Recent Zogby and Marist polls found Republicans who favor ESCR winning the top three spots in nationwide presidential primary surveys.

In February, pro-ESCR Republicans came in first and second in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s 2008 presidential straw poll. This is a conference hailed as the “country’s oldest and largest annual gathering of grassroots conservatives,” and it’s a poll that I won in the lead up to the 2000 election.

Are these signs that the GOP is now willing to acquiesce on life issues in order to elect “anyone but Hillary” in 2008? No. Don’t be fooled. The sanctity of human life is still the defining issue in American politics. And, whether it’s abortion or fetal research, “pro-life” is still the only acceptable position for Republican presidential aspirants, because it is still the issue about which the party’s base — conservative Christians — is most passionate.

Historically, pro-choice Republicans have found it difficult to receive the party’s nomination.

After liberalizing state abortion laws as governor of California, Ronald Reagan experienced a change of heart that made him the most pro-life president in our nation’s history.

George H.W. Bush ran as an openly pro-choice candidate in 1980 and lost badly to Mr. Reagan in the Republican primary. After going through his own pro-life epiphany, Bush emerged in 1987 as an acceptable pro-life candidate.

In 1996, Bob Dole equivocated with the party platform on abortion and only ended up with 41 percent of the vote — the second-worst showing for a Republican presidential candidate since 1964.

George W. Bush’s victories were due primarily to his ability to activate millions of “values voters” who supported his conservative position on moral issues like abortion, stem-cell research and marriage.

Overwhelming historical precedent indicates that if the Republican Party wants to retain the White House in 2008, the nominee needs to be someone who can again draw pro-life voters to the polls: That’s pro-life on abortion and pro-life on stem-cell research.

While debates about health-care plans and tax codes are important to Christian conservatives, they are secondary. These are issues upon which reasonable people can differ. The destruction of innocent human life at any stage, in contrast, is always an objective and absolute evil.

The true measure of any society is whether it protects and enhances the life and dignity of the person. The rights to health care, to nondiscrimination or to fair taxation are false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum resolve.

The destruction of human life is also antithetical to the fundamental principles established for our country in the Declaration of Independence, which understandingly points to God as the source of our natural rights.

The irony of Mr. Frist’s move on ESCR is that while the senator calls himself “pro-life,” believes life begins at conception and even acknowledged during his floor speech that human embryos should be treated with “the same dignity and respect” as those children and adults who may be helped by embryo experimentation, he still supports the destructive research. That’s why the senator’s decision is so vexing. He sees the humanity of nascent human life, yet not only does he support its destruction, but he wants the American taxpayers to fund it.

As a medical doctor, Mr. Frist is in the best position to explain the promise of adult stem-cell research and to defend the protection of innocent human life at all stages. Accordingly, Mr. Frist should retract his support for federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research and reclaim his position as the courageous pro-life leader he really is. If Mr. Frist doesn’t experience a change of heart, he may find himself back operating on them come January 2009.

Gary Bauer, a presidential candidate in 2000, is president of American Values and chairman of Campaign for Working Families.

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