Thursday, July 20, 2006

Stem cells a vote breaker for some Americans

Stem cells a vote breaker for some Americans
By Andrea Hopkins

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Debi Martin is a Christian, a Republican and opposes abortion but she is ready to vote against the party in November if President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans limit stem cell research.

"This is a vote breaker for me," said the Cincinnati mother. "I tell people I'm becoming a Republi-crat at this point -- because there are just things wrong in the Republican Party where people's voices are not being heard anymore."

The passage on Tuesday of a Senate bill to fund embryonic stem cell research -- and a presidential veto expected on Wednesday killing the legislation -- hits very close to home for Martin. Her 9-year-old daughter, Jessi, has diabetes and they both hope stem cell research can some day find a cure.

Martin also feels strongly about the use of embryonic stem cells for research because Jessi was conceived by in vitro fertilization -- and Martin and her husband decided years ago to discard nine unused embryos because she could not have another child.

"I would give anything if I could have had those nine cells to give to have a cure for my baby now," she said. "And I think the worst sin of all, and I am a very religious person, I am pro-life, is to look a miracle from God in the face and throw it away."

There are few issues in America quite as emotional as this one, which would expand federal funding for research with unused human embryos that doctors say could lead to breakthroughs against diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

The debate has set Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician, against Bush, who has threatened to use his veto power for the first time to reject the legislation.

The division among Republicans could have political fallout. Polls show most Americans support the research and Democrats are hoping a voter backlash against Republicans who oppose it will win them enough votes to seize control of Congress at the November mid-term election.


When Bush restricted the use of federal funds for stem cell studies in 2001, several states moved ahead with their own laws to either limit or advance research.

Governors from Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin sent a letter to senators on Tuesday urging them to support the bill.

The topic is especially hot in Missouri, where Republican Gov. Matt Blunt is backing a November ballot initiative for a constitutional amendment to protect stem cell research.

But Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who won his seat in 2002 by just one percentage point, opposes expanded research and could lose his seat over the issue in November amid heavy campaigning by his Democratic opponent in favor of stem cell studies.

Susan Talve, a St. Louis rabbi whose teenage daughter has a heart defect that may be helped by the research, has seen the debate grip faith communities across the heartland state.

"I've sat with enough people who have been on the fence for religious reasons and watched them come to understand the science and come on board," Talve said. "Even people whose churches are opposed, the people themselves are for it."

But across the state border in Overland Park, Kansas, conservative Republican Lisa Childs said she backs Bush's stand against funding the research.

"There is never a good answer," she said. "I see both sides of the issue. But I'm against it. It's a life."

Even those who may be helped by the research are divided about the use of embryonic stem cells.

"Our constituency is made up of people who have varying political beliefs -- and varying ideological and religious beliefs about what constitutes life," said Clarissa Rentz, executive director of the Alzheimer's Society of Greater Cincinnati. "We get calls all the time and some feel that stem cell research is wrong. And some feel it is absolutely the only answer."

(With additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City)