Bush's first veto runs counter to public support for stem-cell bill

President Bush issued the first veto of his presidency yesterday, rejecting legislation that would have expanded federal funding for medical research on embryonic stem cells.

Bush also issued a spirited defense of his position on the issue and a forceful condemnation of what he deemed immoral research.

“This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it,” the president said to a supportive and enthusiastic audience in the East Room of the White House.

The president was flanked at the dais by “snowflake babies,” children who had been frozen embryos and were brought to term by their adoptive mothers.

“These boys and girls are not spare parts,” Bush said.

The sentiments of the president’s backers at the event, however, are not indicative of broad public opinion about embryonic-stem-cell research, as most polls show large majorities believe its promise to create treatments for serious illnesses outweighs ethical concerns about the destruction of embryos.

“Unfortunately, Congress has sent me a bill that fails to meet this ethical test,” Bush said.

By holding fast to his long-held belief that the destroying embryos for the research is morally wrong, Bush runs counter to many in his own Republican Party, including prominent conservatives who oppose abortion rights, such as Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The House Republican leadership planned to hold a vote to override the veto after press time yesterday. Supporters and detractors of the bill alike expected the motion to fail and the veto to be sustained, which would all but end Congress’s involvement in the politically charged debate over embryonic-stem-cell research this year.

The House may yet return to another piece of legislation related to stem cells, however. A coalition of centrist Republicans led by Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) and joined by 138 Democrats and a handful of anti-spending conservatives joined to scuttle another bill the president had planned to sign yesterday.

Castle and many Democrats contend that the bill, which would promote stem-cell research that does not require the destruction of embryos, represents an attempt by Republicans who oppose research on embryonic stem cells to appear supportive of science.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow called Castle to task yesterday, saying his criticisms of the bill are “misleading and fallacious.”

The measure, which passed the Senate 100-0 on Tuesday, failed to meet the two-thirds threshold required under a House suspension vote late Tuesday and fell, 273-154. House GOP leaders said yesterday that they were uncertain whether they would attempt a second vote.

Bush yesterday signed into law a measure that prohibits “fetus farming,” or the creation of human embryos expressly for medical research.

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