Bush, Kerry discuss stem cells, abortion in 2nd debate
ST. LOUIS (BP)--President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry addressed three issues of particular interest to evangelicals during their second debate Oct. 8 in a town hall format at Washington University in St. Louis.
Bush and Kerry answered questions from the audience regarding stem cell research, abortion and possible appointments to the Supreme Court. Same-sex "marriage" was not discussed.
One member of the audience asked Kerry: "Thousands of people have already been cured or treated by the use of adult stem cells or umbilical-cord stem cells. However, no one has been cured by using embryonic stem cells. Wouldn't it be wise to use stem cells obtained without the destruction of an embryo?"
"I really respect your -- the feeling that's in your question," Kerry answered. "I understand it. I know the morality that's prompting that question, and I respect it enormously."
But Kerry said that people like former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose husband suffered from Alzheimer's, and actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, and actor Christopher Reeve, who suffered from paralysis, cause him to support embryonic stem cell research, Kerry said.
Reeve died of cardiac arrest two days after the debate at the age of 52.
"Now, I think we can do ethically guided embryonic stem cell research," Kerry said, suggesting that frozen embryos from fertility clinics be used for research. "... I believe if we have the option, which scientists tell us we do, of curing Parkinson's, curing diabetes, curing some kind of a paraplegic or quadriplegic or a spinal cord injury, anything -- that's the nature of the human spirit. I think it is respecting life to reach for that cure. I think it is respecting life to do it in an ethical way."
President Bush, in his response to the same question, noted that embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of life to create a stem cell.
"I think we've got to be very careful in balancing the ethics and the science," Bush said. "... Science is important, but so is ethics. So is balancing life. To destroy life to save life is one of the real ethical dilemmas that we face."
The president said he helped double the National Institutes of Health budget to $28 billion a year to find cures using adult stem cell research, "to balance science and the concerns for life."
Stem cells are master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells. They are found not only in human embryos but in adults as well. Adult stem cell research extracts cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and other non-embryonic sources without harm to the donor, and the method has already produced more than 40 treatments. Embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson's symptoms in one human test group and a tendency to produce tumors in laboratory animals.
Regarding abortion, a woman asked Kerry to imagine he was speaking with a voter who believed abortion was murder and wanted reassurance that tax dollars would not go to support abortion.
"First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins," Kerry said. "I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic, I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today. But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that.
"But I can counsel people," he added. "I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society. But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that Kerry failed to take a stance on either side of the abortion issue.
"The senator shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between religious belief and moral values," Land said in a statement to Baptist Press. "If he were trying to get the government to force the teaching of Catholicism on people, that would be trying to force his article of faith on others legislatively. In reality, his religious belief should inform his moral values, and he as a citizen should bring his moral values to bear on public policy issues. ...
"The senator's deliberate segregation of his religious belief from his public policy positions on moral issues is functional atheism and would give people of no religious faith veto power over public policy positions in his administration," Land added. "I hope the American people don't want a president who will deliberately segregate and separate his religious convictions from his moral positions on public policy issues."
Bush said that tax dollars should not support abortion.
"My answer is we're not going to spend federal taxpayers' money on abortion," Bush said, noting that he signed a ban on partial-birth abortion, signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and he favors parental notification laws.
Bush charged that Kerry is against parental notification and noted that the Massachusetts senator voted against the partial-birth abortion ban.
"I think it is a worthy goal in America to have every child protected by law and welcomed in life," Bush said. "I also think we ought to continue to have good adoption law as an alternative to abortion. And we need to promote maternity group homes, which my administration has done. [A] culture of life is really important for a country to have if it's going to be a hospitable society."
Many observers say that the next president will nominate at least one judge to the Supreme Court during the next four years. One questioner asked Bush who he would nominate if elected.
"I would pick somebody who would not allow their personal opinion to get in the way of the law," Bush said. "I would pick somebody who would strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States."
Bush then gave examples of the kind of person he would not choose, including someone who would not allow the Pledge of Allegiance to be said in schools because it contains the words "under God."
"I think that's an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process, as opposed to strict interpretation of the Constitution," he said.
Kerry said that his nominee would demonstrate neither a liberal nor a conservative slant.
"I don't believe we need a good conservative judge and I don't believe we need a good liberal judge," he said. "I don't believe we need a good judge of that kind of definition on either side. I subscribe to the Justice Potter Stewart standard -- he was a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States -- and he said the mark of a good judge, a good justice, is that when you're reading their decision, their opinion, you can't tell if it's written by a man or a woman, a liberal or a conservative, a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian. You just know you're reading a good judicial decision."
Land said there was an obvious difference between the two men on judicial nominees.
"The president has made it clear that he is going to nominate only strict constructionist justices who will interpret the Constitution, and John Kerry has a long-time love affair with activist judges who legislate from the bench. It would seem one of the major choices in the election is whether we want to cede more power to the judiciary or rein in what many consider to be a runaway, activist judiciary."
The third and final presidential debate will be Wednesday, Oct. 13 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., at 9 p.m. ET.
With reporting by Tom Strode.