Video: Stem cell funding fight

By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/19/2005 7:32:24 PM ET 2005-05-19T23:32:24

The same Republican-controlled Congress that two months ago passed an emergency pro-life law for the parents of Terri Schiavo is now on the verge of voting to allow federal funding of research on stem cells derived from human embryos, something most on the anti-abortion side oppose.

And this time, the drive is coming from moderate Republicans who say frozen embryos now held at fertility clinics would otherwise be discarded.

"At some point the decision is made to dispose of the embryos," says Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del. "They're not going to be used in the process anymore, and in that case it either becomes hospital waste or it's going to be used for research if our bill passes."

Like-minded Republicans are behind new TV ads, such as one featuring a parent saying, "Owen is my 2-and-a-half year-old son. He has a genetic disease called SMA. Stem cells really do offer the best promise."

But the issue deeply divides Republicans. Conservatives strongly oppose opening up stem cell funding.

"I think it's morally wrong to take the tax dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and use it to fund research that they find morally objectionable," says Rep. Michael Pence, R-Ind.

Their view got a boost this week in a letter from the Catholic Church calling embryonic research "destructive and morally offensive."

But the issue doesn't divide neatly along the usual lines of abortion politics. Even some anti-abortion Republicans, like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, say they'll support expanded stem cell research funding.

"It would be a lot better to utilize them for the benefit of mankind — to alleviate pain, suffering and disease," says Hatch. "And I think anybody who really looks at it has got to say, 'you know, that's pro-life too."

Both sides say increased funding may well pass Congress. It would then be up to President Bush to use his first veto to block it — and opponents of the law are confident he will.

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