Pro-Life Groups to Bill Frist: Say It Ain't So?

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

(1st Add: Includes comments from the Family Research Council and the Catholic League.)

( - Conservative groups say Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) can no longer call himself pro-life if he supports embryonic stem cell research.

Frist announced on Friday that he will support a bill, already passed by the House, that expands federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. That puts Frist at odds with President Bush, who has threatened to veto the bill.

"It's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science," Frist said Friday on the Senate floor.

In a message on his website, Frist said many people, including himself, consider embryonic stem cells "nascent human life" that is destroyed as part of the stem cell research process.

"But I also strongly believe -- as do countless other scientists, clinicians, and doctors -- that embryonic stem cells uniquely hold specific promise for some therapies and potential cures that adult stem cells cannot provide."

Pro-life groups reacted with dismay.

"Senator Frist cannot have it both ways. He cannot be pro-life and pro-embryonic stem cell funding. Nor can he turn around and expect widespread endorsement from the pro-life community if he should decide to run for president in 2008," said the Christian Defense Coalition.

"It is a contradiction in terms to say, "I believe life begins at conception," and then support legislation that will result in the destruction of that innocent human life, said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.

"It is also disappointing to see Senator Frist embrace funding for research that not only destroys innocent life but has not proven nearly as successful as adult stem cell research," Mahoney added.

Concerned Women for America on Friday expressed "significant doubt" about Frist's commitment to pro-life values.

"To say in one breath he's pro-life and believes human life begins at conception, and in another to disregard that entire statement by claiming he believes embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported, it gives us great pause towards his pro-life commitment," said Lanier Swann, CWA's director of government relations.

"You are talking about a science that promotes the creation and destruction of human embryos for the purpose of science, and more importantly, the science has yet to yield one single successful result in humans.

Swann said American taxpayers should not be forced to fund an unproven science.

She noted that adult stem cell research does have a proven record, with more than 65 diseases successfully treated in humans using adult-stem-cell science.

"This is the research we need to be focused on," Swann concluded.

But according to Frist's website, "embryonic stem cells have specific properties that make them uniquely powerful and deserving of special attention in the realm of medical science. These special properties explain why scientists and physicians feel so strongly about support of embryonic as well as adult stem cell research."

"We are disappointed, but not surprised. Senator Frist has taken this position before, which is really a contradiction to say he believes life begins at conception and that he supports the destruction of embryos," David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, told Cybercast News Service.

"There is no cogent reason to use embryonic stem cells, when there are 39 lines that are still in the freezer and have not been touched," Prentice said. He pointed out that there were 200 patients with heart damage who have been helped by adult stem cells, "which we hope Dr. Frist would recognize as a heart doctor."

Frist called 'Dr. Duplicity'

The Catholic League, who also expressed outrage at Frist's new stance on embryonic stem cell research, drew comparisons between Frist and former presidential candidate John Kerry (D-Mass.).

"Here is what Senator John Kerry said when running for president: 'I believe life does begin at conception.' Here is what Senator Bill Frist is now saying: 'I believe human life begins at conception.' They now agree on one more thing: They will do absolutely nothing to protect the beginning of innocent human life," said Catholic League President William Donohue.

"Frist is worse than Kerry. Kerry, a lawyer, said his position on the beginning of human life was based on 'my Catholic belief.' Frist, a physician, says that while his Christian faith informs his position, there's more to it: 'But, to me, it isn't just a matter of faith. It's a fact of science," said Donohue.

Donohue called Frist a "hypocrite" whose stance on embryonic stem cell research changed due to his political aspirations.

"And it's a fact of politics that Frist is such a hypocrite. His change of heart has nothing to do with any scientific breakthrough: there is no new evidence suggesting that the human embryo does not constitute human life, nor is there any evidence that embryonic stem cell research can be performed without killing embryos," said Donohue.

"What's changed is that Dr. Duplicity wants to be president," added Donohue. He noted that Frist has no plans to run for senator of Tennessee again. "Now it's up to the Republican leadership to make sure he has no future role to play in their party. Who knows, if Frist becomes increasingly Kerryesque, maybe the Dems will draft him?"

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