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First do no harm

Life News | Researchers may have discovered a way around the embryonic stem-cell debate-and other life issues to watch

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

Mother lode

Scientists at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported on Jan. 7 a discovery that not only promises many of the same therapeutic benefits touted by advocates of embryonic stem-cell research, but the possibility of sidestepping that particular controversy altogether. University researchers announced that they had drawn stem cells from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women and turned them into several different tissue cell types, including liver, brain, and bone. While embryonic stem-cell research destroys developing embryos, the new procedure harmed neither mother nor fetus.

Harvard University stem-cell researcher George Daley said the finding may mean expectant parents could someday freeze amnio stem cells for use in generating replacement tissue in a sick child, without fear of tissue rejection. But Daley was also quick to assert that the discovery of amnio stem cells does not mean embryonic stem-cell research should end. "While they are fascinating subjects of study in their own right, they are not a substitute for human embryonic stem cells, which allow scientists to address a host of other interesting questions in early human development," said Daley, who began work last year to clone human embryos to produce stem cells.

On the chopping block?

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With Democrats in control of Congress, what are the prospects for the United States' pro-life aid policies in the world? Grim, said the Population Research Institute's Steve Mosher. The "Mexico City Policy" first instituted by Ronald Reagan prevents U.S. aid money abroad from going to organizations that promote or perform abortions. In the 1990s Bill Clinton rescinded it, only to have a Republican-controlled Congress write it into law. Now Mosher expects Democrats to change the law to favor family-planning groups that have long gone without federal funding. Making changes, however, might involve adding line items to the budget to skirt presidential objections. "A lot of this is going to depend on the Blue Dog Democrats," Mosher said, and whether pro-life Democrats stick to their election-winning platforms.

Double indemnity

James Kopp is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for second-degree murder but now is standing trial again-for the same crime. In October 1998 Kopp stood in the woods behind the home of abortionist Barnett A. Slepian, took aim with a Russian-made assault rifle, and shot the doctor dead. Originally convicted in a state court, Kopp now faces two federal charges: one, that he used force against an abortionist, thus interfering with legal reproductive services; and two, that he used a firearm in the process. The new charges stem from the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act. If convicted, Kopp could be sentenced to life without parole. U.S. Attorney Terrance Flynn said the government considered Slepian's family when deciding whether to file federal charges. "It was and has been from the beginning, the position of the Department of Justice that we would seek this life-without-parole conviction by a jury and that Mrs. Slepian and her four sons will never be subject to going through a parole hearing in their life."

Edwards hires abortion activist

Democratic 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards announced on Jan. 9 that he had selected Kate Michelman, who served for almost 20 years as president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, as a senior campaign advisor conducting outreach to women voters. Though his party has worked to moderate its image on abortion since the Kerry-Edwards defeat of 2004, Edwards seems determined to stick to his pro-abortion guns. This despite recent polls showing that two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should be more strictly limited or completely outlawed. National Right to Life Committee political director Karen Cross said Edwards' choice of Michelman "underscores not only his strong pro-abortion stance, but also his strong ties to the pro-abortion movement."

-with reporting by Priya Abraham

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