Prior to President George W. Bush exercising the only veto of his administration to kill House Resolution 810 — the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act — both Republican Mississippi U.S. senators voted on July 18 to support the bill in their chamber.

The majority of the U.S. House of Representatives had already approved the measure.

H.R. 810 would have permitted federal funds to be used to support medical research into therapies derived from embryonic stem cells. Funding would have been restricted to research on human embryos slated to be destroyed by fertility clinics.

Standing tall for life

In other words, Mississippi’s Republican U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott — both staunch conservatives — voted in favor of the government funding stem-cell research on embryos that were going to be thrown in the garbage anyway and had no chance at life.

Why? Because stem-cell research holds great promise to provide treatments or even cures for maladies such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.

Cochran and Lott voted against the majority of their GOP colleagues and against the powerful anti-abortion political lobby to take a stand that was “pro-life” for those living with these dread diseases.

But President Bush vetoed the measure on the grounds that the process of extracting stem cells destroys embryos, which are the beginning of human life. The White House position is the position of the majority of the nation’s anti-abortion groups.

The next day, both of Mississippi’s Republican U.S. representatives — 1st District U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker of Tupelo and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering of Flora — voted against overriding Bush’s veto of the bill.

In other words, Wicker and Pickering would rather see fertility clinic embryos discarded in waste bins than allow federal funding for stem-cell research that could bring hope and help to the 100 million Americans who suffer from diseases that stem cell research has the potential to help.

Political paradox

Strange as it might seem, Pickering and Wicker are names at the top of the state Republican Party heap to succeed Cochran and Lott in the U.S. Senate when either of those GOP lions choose to retire.

To be certain, Wicker and Pickering chose the politically safe path here in Mississippi. They won’t be subject to political attack in the future by those who would target them as being “wrong” on abortion — despite the indisputable fact that stem-cell research has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion.

Cochran and Lott, on the other hand, took courageous political stands in voting to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research under limited conditions. They will be subject to political attack, but their seniority will insulate them from any real damage.

Many conservative Republicans in Mississippi support responsible stem-cell research and reject the shrill voices of the far right who claim that such research equates to abortion.

Bush, Wicker and Pickering are wrong on this issue. Cochran and Lott are right — and they had the courage to vote that way.

Sid Salter is Perspective editor of the Clarion Ledger.

Call him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail him at

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