George W. Bush did something today that he hadn't in 66 months as president — he vetoed a bill passed by Congress. The legislation would have eased restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. President Bush imposed the restrictions in 2001.
At a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, the president said he couldn't accept a bill that would underwrite research using new lines of embryonic stem cells — even though that research could find cures for diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other illnesses. He and many conservatives say that however medically promising, the research destroys embryos that have the potential for human life.
"If this bill would have become law," Bush said, "American taxpayers would, for the first time in our history, be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos. And I'm not going to allow it."
On a riser behind the president were people who call themselves "snowflake" families. They've adopted frozen embryos that would have been discarded in fertility clinics, using the embryos to have children. Many of them were holding small children in their arms. President Bush posed with them after delivering his remarks.
"Each of these children was adopted while still an embryo, and has been blessed with the chance to grow up in a loving family," the president said. "These boys and girls are not spare parts."
President Bush's Republican allies had meant to send him a related bill to sign into law at today's ceremony, a bill encouraging research into alternative sources of stem cells not involving embryos.
But while approved in the Senate, that bill did not clear the House in time for the event. Instead, the president got a bill to ban so-called "fetal farming" — the idea that embryos might be developed to fetal stage and harvested for research. No one in either the House or Senate opposed the bill prohibiting the act, which is not believed to have been under serious consideration.
But national attention has been focused on the funding of stem-cell research. And on that issue, the president finds himself at odds with Democrats — and a substantial number of Republicans — in Congress. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California was quick to point to the polls.
"In vetoing the legislation," Pelosi said, "the president will be saying 'no' to 75 percent of the American people. He will be saying 'no' to so many families across America who are hoping and praying that this legislation becomes a public policy."
Republicans urging President Bush not to veto the bill included former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose husband died of Alzheimer's disease; she has been a prominent advocate of stem-cell research.