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Thread: Congressional Quarterly: Repositioning the Stem Cell Debate

  1. #1

    Congressional Quarterly: Repositioning the Stem Cell Debate

    Repositioning the Stem Cell Debate
    By David Nather, CQ Staff
    It’s not an easy time to be a religious conservative on Capitol Hill. Congress’ new Democratic majority has put stem-cell research back on the agenda while ignoring bids to ban gay marriage. And without any hotline to the leadership, that picture isn’t going to change anytime soon.

    So how have the most prominent religious conservative groups adjusted to the new environment? By keeping in close touch with Republican allies, talking to centrist Democrats who might be open to their views, and seeking to marshal public pressure behind arguments they think might resonate with at least some members of the new majority.

    Case in point: stem cells. Later this month or in early April, the Senate is expected to take up a bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. A similar bill passed the House easily in January, despite a veto threat from President Bush. So religious conservative groups are sending out talking points for their supporters to use against the bill. Most aren’t exactly new: Taxpayer funds shouldn’t be used to destroy human embryos, they say, and other kinds of stem cell research hold promise too.

    But there’s another argument now gaining currency among the bill’s opponents: By opening up federal funding to stem cell lines that didn’t exist before Aug. 9, 2001 — the cutoff date Bush set in an executive order that year — Congress would create a market that would encourage women to donate eggs for the new research projects, in exchange for quick cash, some of the groups say.

    That kind of market would exploit women who were hard up for money, especially poor women and college students — “the kind of women who are vulnerable to ads that say, ‘Oh, hey, come make $5,000,’ ” according to Charmaine Yoest, vice president for communications at the Family Research Council.

    It’s not a completely new line of reasoning, as Yoest points out. It came up in Missouri last year, where a stem cell research initiative became a major factor in the Senate race won by Democrat Claire McCaskill , who supports the research. And during last year’s stem cell debate in the Senate, then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. — who supported embryonic stem cell research despite his close ties to religious conservatives — also granted that expanded research could create incentives for women to take ovulation drugs so they could donate eggs.

    Indeed, the concern about creating embryos for research purposes led to the passage last year of a different bill — signed into law in July — that bans “fetus farming,” or the initiation of pregnancies to donate tissue or organs for such research.

    But the egg harvesting argument is being used more frequently now that the Democrats control Congress, since it involves “using the leftists’ concern for women and turning it on its head,” says Janice Crouse, a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute of Concerned Women for America. “You’re going to have women in third-world nations, and even college students, who will earn spending money by selling their eggs.”

    Will the Democrats be swayed? Not likely. The Senate endorsed embryonic stem cell research last year even under Republican control; the only question is whether Congress will sustain Bush’s veto again this year.

    Still, religious conservatives believe they’ve already prevailed on another hot-button issue — abortion — as Democrats shift their emphasis from protecting the procedure to reducing the need for it in the first place. The same can happen on stem cells, they believe — even in a Democratic Congress. “We did lose” the Missouri Senate race, says Yoest, but “we didn’t lose by a whole lot. We’re looking at it and saying, ‘The game’s not over.’ ”

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    So they're getting desperate good, though I will never understand how they're so adamant on this issue and equate it with abortion, which means they will not be giving in any time soon.

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