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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended August 06, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 07Aug00

Summarized by Michael Nielsen

LDS Senator's Dilemma Reveals How Science is Making Abortion More Difficult Issue

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA -- Abortion has not been in the political spotlight in recent weeks, but it remains a divisive issue as science continues to advance. A case in point involves Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. The LDS senator recently was asked by the National Right to Life Committee to speak out against a procedure that extracts stem cells from human embryos. Smith said that he has had several family members die a slow death because of Parkinson's disease, and that "part of my pro-life ethic is to make life better for the living." Smith told the NRLC that researchers expect that stem cells will some day be used in the fight against Parkinson's disease.

Abortion has played an important role in previous Republican conventions, but this year George W. Bush persuaded party members to leave their antiabortion feelings out of the party platform. Despite the effort to put aside the contentious issue, ethical dilemmas have the potential to fracture long-standing alliances. For example, prenatal tests will become available to detect whether the fetus will develop forms of breast cancer. The added information may present difficult decisions for parents.

Politicians such Sen. Smith also are likely to struggle with difficult decisions. Because of the promise of stem cells in treating Parkinson's and other diseases, he is among a handful of republican legislators who refused a blanket ban on certain stem cell harvesting techniques.

Smith is described as a highly devout Mormon who spent two years on a church mission in New Zealand. He notes that two fundamental Mormon beliefs are the sacredness of life, and the obligation to choose. He says that "there's no issue that brings these two principles in conflict as much as abortion."

Earlier in his political career, Smith became known for his effort in the Oregon legislature to require minors secure parental consent for abortions. When Bob Packwood resigned his senate seat in 1996, Smith ran an unsuccessful campaign that included strong anti-abortion and anti-gay rights positions. Later that year, he softened his stance on abortion, and won Oregon's other senate seat.

His position on abortion has been shaped by his family members. As a child, he watched his mother become resentful over not having a legal way to end a difficult pregnancy. She already had seven children, and "she felt devalued" by the process, he recalled.

Smith also watched Parkinson's disease slowly take the lives of his grandmother, his cousin, Rep. Morris Udall (also Mormon), and other family members. Sen. Smith is hopeful that research using stem cells will end the suffering of people with the disease.

In his thoughts about the issue, Sen. Smith relies on the perspective of an LDS heart surgeon, who believes that the soul unites with the fetus's body at about the time its blood begins to circulate, some 6 weeks after conception. This view would allow the harvesting of stem cells before that time. "When (God) put the spirit in the body is the critical question for me," says Sen. Smith.

A bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa promises to keep the issue in the spotlight. The bill would change funding rules for research using stem cells, enabling federal money to be spent on the studies. The bill is expected to come to a vote as early as September.

Conservative watchdogs question Smith's position. Lon Mabon, of the Oregon Citizen's Alliance, says that "Smith doesn't have solid principles." Yet, he acknowledges that "a lot of the pro-life community in Oregon is moving to where Sen. Smith is."

Put to the Test: GOP Avoids Abortion For Now, but Science Is Stirring the Debate
Wall Street Journal 1Aug00 N2
By Bob Davis: Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
Research That Kills Embryos But May Fight Diseases Prompts Reassessments --- A Senator and His Conscience


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