Evangelicals Launch TV Ad Critical of Senate Leader's Stem Cell Views

An evangelical group has launched a television advertising campaign in Iowa, which says that Senate majority leader Bill Frist's call for expanded stem cell research would destroy lives, not save them.

With Iowa being a key state for a possible presidential run for Frist (R-Tenn.) in 2008, Florida-based evangelical ministry Reclaim America began a campaign against his stem cell research views in the "heartland."

"We know Iowa is a way to get everybody's attention," said Gary Cass, the group's Executive Director, according to the Associated Press. "Our hope is Senator Frist will hear from Iowans and they are kind of a bellwether state in the heartland."

The ads were launched in the Des Moines area with a budget of $50,000. However the group hopes to raise more funds to expand the campaign. It is asking for donations through its website, and an e-mail campaign to more than half a million social conservatives.

The ad shows a smiling baby with a narrator saying: "Senator Frist: we cannot save innocent lives by destroying them. Tell Senator Frist to stand with President Bush and oppose research that destroys human embryos."

Responding to concerns over the ad, Nick Smith, a spokesperson for the senator said that Frist "understands that there are many opinions on this issue and he respects those opinions. However, after long thought, he has made his decision based on principle and believes it holds great promise in helping many people," AP reported.

On Reclaim America's website, a statement was issued by Cass on Thursday saying Frist "contradicted his past pro-life convictions and abandoned the principle that every innocent life is sacred."

"It was a tragic medical, political, and moral error," he added.

Last week, the senator traversed his state, meeting with constituents, answering questions, including those of people concerned about his views on embryonic stem cell research.

Frist, who is a Harvard trained transplant surgeon, has said he is not contradicting his pro-life stance by seeking expanded funding for stem cell research. He says that the research he is backing will be carried out on early stage embryos, known as blastocysts, which have already been set apart for destruction.

In a July 29 speech on the Senate floor announcing his support for expanded federal funding, he said those "leftover" blastocysts would be used to harvest embryonic stem cells.

"We should federally fund research only on embryonic stem cells derived from blastocysts leftover from fertility therapy, which will not be implanted or adopted but instead are otherwise destined by the parents with absolute certainty to be discarded and destroyed," said Frist.

In Thursday's statement, Cass said that following the logic of such a moral stance would also validate harvesting organs from death row inmates in order to save others because the prisoners were scheduled to die anyway.

"That repugnant idea is no different from what Dr. Frist suggests we do to tiny human beings because of the alleged medical promise from their embryonic stem cells," he added.

Scientists favoring embryonic stem cell research say it holds promise for finding cures for currently incurable diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

Across the nation in California on Monday, other prominent politicians recently came out in support of the research calling on Frist to help with a stem cell funding bill being supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Figures such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined her to announce their support at a neuroscience research building at the University of California in Los Angeles.

They stated their support for "therapeutic cloning" meant to repair damaged cells, the LA Times reported. They also explained that such cloning was not related to human cloning research, which they said should become a federal crime.

They are seeking that a federal law favoring stem cell research be passed. Currently, lawsuits are preventing the state from selling bonds for a statewide initiative to fund stem cell research called Proposition 71 that passed with a 59 percent majority among voters last year.