RE-IMPOSE BUSH BAN? Research Opponents Hope to Turn Back the Clock

By Don C. Reed

Using a variety of approaches, anti-research forces are attempting to turn back the clock: either to the days of the Bush Presidency, or perhaps even all the way back to those happy times known as the Dark Ages, when the Church dictated science policy.

Do I exaggerate? Here are three examples: one national, two from the states.

First: remember the lawsuit (Sherley et al v. Sebelius et al) filed by the Christian Medical Association and others against the Federal Government in an attempt to stop federal funding for embryonic stem cell research? (Go to, click on September, scroll down for two articles: one, a summary of the case, and the second, the Government’s response.)

Here is a shocking update..

“… a hearing was held Wednesday, October 14 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on a preliminary injunction to block implementation and federal funding under the NIH guidelines. Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth listened to oral arguments, and will likely issue a decision by November 1 (in the meantime, NIH has indicated that it will not permit the expenditure of any funds for human embryonic stem cell research before that date.)” (emphasis added, DR)

–David Prentice, Family Research Council Blog, October 15, 2009 (Yes, that is the same Dr. David Prentice and Family Research Council that always opposes our research.)

Another article put it more bluntly, but with the same result:

“Case seeks to reinstate Bush administration ban on using taxpayer dollars for research on human embryos. (and)… overturn Obama’s decision to fund embryonic stem cell research.

“…A hearing was held Wednesday to reinstate a ban on taxpayer funds being used for embryonic stem cell research. The case, Sherley et al. v. Sebelius et al., was filed in federal court, Aug. 19, and seeks to overturn guidelines established by the National Institutes of Health, which allows for federal funds to be used for embryonic stem cell research.

“(The) hearing resulted in a temporary suspension of the ability to allocate federal taxpayer dollars to embryonic stem cell research…” (emphasis added, DR)

–Holly Smith, Kansas Liberty: 16 October 2009

Assuming these reports are accurate, (I have a call in to the Health and Human Service Department to verify) consider what is really happening here:

The Religious Right’s goal is to block the research. Since funding is the lifeblood of all research, if the funding is suspended, even for an hour, for that amount of time, they have won. By shutting it off, they have stopped the research.

Maybe the suspension will be for a few days—or maybe it will drag on for years, as the case is appealed through all the various levels of court, up to and  including the U.S. Supreme Court, the Roberts Court, one of the most conservative in American history.

Should the research funding be stopped– on the basis that it is being challenged in court?

That was done in California, denying us our stem cell program’s rightful funding for two years.  I felt that suspension of funding was wrong then, and this newest suspension is wrong as well.

This is like being found guilty—and penalized—by reason of being sued.

That’s from the national front: now let’s take a look at two state assaults, Nebraska and Michigan.

Nebraska hinges on something as simple as a broken promise.

Remember the Cornhusker state’s nine-month struggle to find a compromise between their scientists and the Religious Right?

A law was passed (LB 606) which everyone seemed able to live with. It imposed stringent restrictions on embryonic stem cell research funding in the state—no new lines to be created by state dollars– and banned public funding of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer altogether. It even provided funding for adult stem cell research, $500,000 a year, (zero for embryonic) giving the conservatively-approved methods a head start.

What did the pro-research side gain, in exchange for giving up so much? Only one thing. The state law would allow the scientists to do their work without fear of political harassment. They could do embryonic stem cell research, within careful guidelines.

There was even a sidebar agreement that neither side would advance legislation, either in support of, or opposition to, stem cell research.   This was signed by every major right to life group in the state.

I thought, well,  the scientists have to work with one hand tied behind their backs, but at least they will be allowed to work without further harassment.


Having achieved everything they could get through law, the Religious Right put political pressure against the only place in Nebraska big enough to actually do the research.  (The only similarly-sized facility large enough is Creighton University– a Catholic school.)

The University of Nebraska (NU) is a top-notch research center— but it has a board of directors, called Regents—and they, like everyone, are susceptible to political pressure.

The board is being pressured to limit embryonic stem cell research to only lines made before 2001—reverting to the old Bush policy, which banned government funding to all new stem cell lines. This is like limiting the aircraft industry to planes existing before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.

Because those lines are so old as to be virtually useless, this attempt to turn back the clock amounts to a banning of the research.

The next meeting of the Board of Regents is this Friday, the 23rd. We already know the anti-research folks are advertising a picket effort outside the Regents board meeting. They will also be inside the meeting (as is their right) and will be actively participating.

This is not small. Everybody knew what was at stake. The scientists would agree to accept a series of restrictions on their work, in exchange for which they would be allowed to work in peace.

That promise was utterly broken, and it is a shame. Here was a chance for bitter opponents to work together, and it seemed like it was happening.

But the “pro-life” groups took as much as they could from this one area, seemingly making whatever promises it took to get what they wanted– and then turned around and tried to shut down the research again.

Finally, Michigan faces a series of 6 connected laws to squelch embryonic stem cell research in that state.

These laws are brought to us by Senator Tom George, (R-Kalamazoo), co-chair of MiCAUSE (Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation), the official opposition to loosening stem cell restrictions in the Wolverine State.

Now, this is interesting.

Remember that a citizen’s initative, Proposal 2, was offered: it would allow stem cell research that was permissible nationally to be allowed in the Wolverine State as well.

During that campaign, the opposition, MiCAUSE, backed primarily by the Catholic Church, repeatedly claimed that if Proposal 2 passed, it would be impossible—even illegal– to regulate the research at all. It would be, they implied, just mad scientists running around doing whatever they wanted. They even paid for a commercial showing an actor in a cow costume, raising its hoof in objection to animal-human hybrids!

Here is their key argument, taken from the Michigan Catholic Conference publication, Focus, Volume 36, Number 3, October, 2008.

In giant letters splashed across the page.

Proposal 2: Unregulated Embryo Destruction

“…If Proposal 2 were to pass, how would embryo research be regulated?

“It wouldn’t. In fact, it would be illegal to place any regulations or restrictions (emphasis added) on human embryo research in Michigan. If Proposal 2 were to pass, human embryo destruction and research would become the first industry to be completely immune from any local or state laws.”—October, 2008.


If Senator George’s group honestly believed it would be “illegal to place any regulations or restrictions” on the research, why is he trying to do exactly that right now?

Representative George is not breaking the law. (I disagree with the six laws he proposes—Senate Bills 647, 648, 649, 650, 651, and 652 are apparently designed to kill the research by massive over-regulation– but they are not illegal.)

I suspect his side was just making propaganda again, part of their endless series of unfounded assertions, which it is our job as advocates to point out.

AND—October 17th—House Joint Resolution II (HJR II) was introduced in the Michigan Congress.

This is one of those poisonous “personhood” bills.

Some of it is written in dark ink and ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, like shouting:


It sounds okay at first, until you think about it.

Why do they want to redefine a “human person” from its present definition (a viable baby that can live on his or her own after having been born) way back to a microscopic union of sperm and egg, including frozen blastocysts , or a dot in a dish of salt water?

Because this new definition of personhood may let them overturn Roe v. Wade, and criminalize all abortions. This is part of a multi-decade effort, the central goal of the right-to-life establishment.

And they have a point.

Who really is in favor of abortions? Are they not an act of desperation?

If there was a way to eliminate the need for abortions– to make every baby planned, and wanted, and safe, and provided for—who could be against that?

But a personhood law? Disaster.

By giving sperm and egg unions legal standing in a court of law, personhood bills like HJR II will not only strip away every woman’s right to choose, making reproductive freedoms a thing of the past, but would also end forever all embryonic stem cell research, (criminalizing it as an act of murder), ban the entire In Vitro Fertility method of helping childless couples have a baby—and also make most forms of birth control illegal.

A personhood bill is like cleaning your home with a nuclear bomb: when the blast is done, and the mushroom cloud blows away, everything is clean beyond clean, absolutely sterile; the bugs are gone, the germs are gone—but so is the house, and the neighborhood.

Someday, (and may that day come soon) you and I will not have to be involved in the struggle to protect and advance medical research.

The cures will be many: the results evident and undeniable. The opposition (already a narrow minority, though powerful) will look around, realize they have marginalized themselves. They will declare victory, and look for something else to attack.

Regenerative medicine will be taken for granted.

But that time is not now. Right now, we are needed. Too much is at stake. If we are strong, and help each other, the world will benefit in ways we only dimly glimpse for now, like international cooperation: already Germany and Israel, formerly bitter enemies, are working together on embryonic stem cell research. And just a couple days ago, China and the California stem cell program announced they will be working together—and think about jobs.  Instead of the frustration of too many shoes pounding the pavement in search of fewer and fewer jobs, by attacking chronic illness we find the source of endless work and a new economy.

Things are going to change, and for the better, if we just hang on.

Not long ago, I met a lawyer friend in the halls of our state capitol. We were talking about the next big legislative attack on the California stem cell program, which will probably come in about ten months.

In a burst of optimism, I said maybe this one would be the last. I had a momentary flash of happy fantasy where I imagined hanging up my advocate’s hat, and settling back to watching kung fu movies on TV, and writing books about the sea.

But my lawyer friend smiled, and said probably not: most likely we would see each other in the halls next year too, because there would be another legislative battle to be fought, sure as the coming of Spring.

And baseball.

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