President Bush, in the words of FAUX News man Stephen Colbert, “lost his veto virginity” on July 19, five-and-a-half years into his administration. What issue was important enough for him to break his apparent vow of legislative chastity? A congressional appropriation, passed overwhelmingly by both the Senate and the House, that would have provided taxpayer funding for, in the words of Catholic World News, “stem-cell research using ‘leftover’ embryos from fertility clinics.”
As White House Press Secretary Tony Snow proclaimed, “The president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something living and making it dead for the purposes of scientific research.” (The President apparently does reserve the right to take something living and make it dead for the purposes of exporting democracy to Iraq.)
The veto capped a frenzied week of congressional activity (part of which has been chronicled above by Bill Quirk) that had more to do with establishing legislative records for incumbents to run on in November than it did with any question of principle. And, while this veto was welcome, its role as part of the Republican Values Agenda does call into question President Bush’s true reason for acting as he did.
As my sister Monica, a research scientist in cell and molecular biology, and I pointed out in the June 2003 issue of Chronicles (“Stemming the Tide,” Chronicles Intelligence Assessment), the commitment of President Bush and his administration on this issue has always been suspect. Would he have vetoed this legislation if it had come up in 2005? More importantly, will he veto it if it comes up again in 2007?
Snow, responding to a question about whether President Bush is worried that the veto will hurt Republicans in November, does not give us any particular reason to hope: “[I]t’s worth pointing out one thing—actually several things on stem cells. Number one, the President is the first ever to have financed research using embryonic stem cell lines.” And: “I think a President acting on conscience—a President who, again—Bill Clinton, as President, didn’t authorize any of these lines. This is a President who’s spent more money on embryonic stem cell research and stem cell research generally than any President in American history. He’s got the track record. What’s happening now is that people are trying to politicize it by accusing him of standing in the way of science, when he’s the guy who’s made it possible to open up the way to science.”
To open up the way to science—that would explain why President Bush had offered support to S. 2754, the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, sponsored by Pennsylvania senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum. While Senator Santorum claimed that S. 2754 would fund adult stem-cell research, that was less than a half-truth: If S. 2754 had passed, the federal government would have funded a procedure that would take a nucleus from an adult cell and place it in an unfertilized egg that has had its nucleus removed.
As American Life League President Judie Brown correctly pointed out, this process does not create adult stem-cell lines; it creates embryos through a form of cloning. Those embryos would then have been destroyed to create embryonic stem-cell lines that would have been eligible for federal research funding, just like the 60-plus embryonic stem-cell lines that President Bush approved for federal funding back in August 2001.
That would have gone a step beyond “taking something living and making it dead for the purposes of scientific research”: It would have been making “something living and making it dead for the purposes of scientific research.”
And yet, one day after S. 2754 passed the Senate unanimously but its companion bill failed in the House, every conservative Christian pro-life organization in America—including those who did not support President Bush’s August 2001 decision or S. 2754—applauded the President for his “bravery” for finally exercising his veto power. How quickly we forget.