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Triple somersault

"Triple somersault" Continued...

Issue: "Faith-based about-face," Aug. 27, 2005

Cherrie Holden, president of the organization's political action committee at the time, met with Mr. Frist several times during the campaign and reviewed a questionnaire he filled out about abortion. "He was definitely pro-life," she said.

Mrs. Holden and others in the National Right to Life organization felt vindicated by Mr. Frist's actions in office. His National Right to Life online profile shows a clean record-39 green checkmarks next to votes on partial-birth abortion, assisted suicide, and violence against unborn children.

While Mr. Frist was establishing a pro-life voting record in Washington, Tennessee Right to Life president Brian Harris felt the organization had a disjointed relationship with the senator. That disconnect grew larger in 2001 when politicians turned their attention to embryonic stem-cell research.

Doctors have treated more than 50 diseases such as leukemia and sickle-cell anemia with stem-cell transplants. In the transplants, adult stem cells act as factories for creating new, healthy cells that overcome disease. Many scientists believe embryonic stem cells could similarly cure even more devastating diseases because, unlike specialized adult stem cells, they have the potential to produce almost all the tissue in a human body. But harvesting stem cells from embryos destroys the embryo.

Last month's flip-flop on the stem-cell issue was not Mr. Frist's first. In July 2001, Mr. Frist gave a speech in the Senate supporting federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. He advocated funding research on stem cells from unused embryos manufactured for in vitro fertilization. Later that summer, President Bush allowed funding, but limited it to research on already-harvested stem cells. No federal funding could go toward the further destruction of embryos.

At that point Mr. Frist backed away from his advocacy of funding for stem-cell research in favor of the president's policy. But it appears his position on embryo destruction changed again-or never really changed at all.

"We've always sort of waited for the other shoe to drop," Mr. Harris told WORLD. In July of this year, that shoe hit pro-lifers between the eyes when Mr. Frist resumed his support for federally funding embryo destruction.

In his most recent speech to the Senate, Mr. Frist insistently labeled himself pro-life. But his belief that parents should have the option to end the lives of frozen embryos brought back echoes of his 1994 comment that women should have the option of abortion.

"Obviously, any decision about the destiny of an embryo must clearly and ultimately rest with the parents," he said.

In his Chattanoogan column on stem-cell research, Mr. Frist compared frozen embryos to the donated hearts he transplanted into patients. Both were destined "with absolute certainty" to be destroyed, he said.

Pro-lifers plan to use what they have learned from this split with Mr. Frist in the next election. Mr. Harris says he will look beyond a candidate's self-applied label of "pro-life" or "pro-choice." To be pro-life, he says, you have to share the movement's core values, not just one of its positions. "If we had looked in 1994, we would not have seen in Bill Frist a person who shared our core convictions," he said. "The bar for being called a pro-life leader or a pro-life official has been significantly raised."

Lynde Langdon
Lynde Langdon

Lynde lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. She holds degrees from the University of Missouri in journalism, Russian, and business administration. She is in a long-term, committed relationship with the Lutheran church. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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