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Notes from the Hill

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Perhaps it was the switch on the part of the House leadership, which days before the House debate on cloning and embryo research promised to leave legislators free to vote their conscience, but then on the day of the debate turned the whole affair into a “leadership vote.” Perhaps it was the intense campaign by Harvard scientists eager to experiment on human embryos, which used all of the prestige of the institution to convince legislators that their laboratory work involved just little cells, not human beings. Maybe it was the relentless drumbeat to find cures at any cost pushed by the media. Or the emotional pleas of family members, friends or constituents to support the bill because it promoted “stem cell research,” overlooking the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells.

Whatever the cause, the result was disastrous. On March 31, the Massachusetts House joined the Senate in approving a bill to endorse human cloning and embryo research by a margin of 117-37. A conference committee of Senate and House members must resolve technical differences between the bills passed by both branches before sending a final version to Gov. Mitt Romney, who has promised to veto any legislation that endorses research cloning.

Seventeen legislators will have to be persuaded to switch their votes in order to sustain a gubernatorial veto. Several House members who voted for the cloning legislation have voted pro-life consistently in the past. Their votes were a surprise. Unless Catholic and other pro-life constituents raise enough ruckus in these legislators’ districts, and enough legislators see the light and change their position on the bill, any veto will be overridden.

Those legislators include: Broadhurst, Callahan, Connolly, Coughlin, Creedon, Flynn, Fresolo, Hargraves, Kane, D. Keenan, J. Keenan, Knuutila, Kujawski, Miceli, J. Murphy, Nangle, Petrolati, Pope, Quinn, Stanley, Teahan, Valley, Verga and Wagner.

If a veto is not sustained, then this will mark the official death in politics of the pro-life movement in Massachusetts. The term “pro-life” will become the sole possession of those who deem the destruction of embryonic human life to be “pro-life” because the cloning industry and its political boosters say it is.

The heroic witness of the 37 legislators who stood strong despite the pressures to capitulate is all the more remarkable. Representatives Elizabeth Poirier, Paul Loscocco, Phil Travis, Vinny DeMacedo, George Peterson, Paul Frost, Colleen Garry, John Lepper, Mary Rogeness, Brad Hill, Brad Jones, Daniel Webster, Chris Fallon, Marie Parente, Shirley Gomes, and Tim Toomey made eloquent and courageous speeches against the bill during the floor debate.

One other interesting aspect of the proceedings in the House was the rising concern among legislators over the cloning industry’s voracious need for human eggs. Proponents acknowledged that their endorsement of human cloning will create a bigger market for the non-FDA approved and untested hormonal drugs that are typically used to get women to “super-ovulate.” These legislators recognized the potential that women of low income will be targeted and thus be at risk for exploitation. Unfortunately, their concerns did little in the end to dampen the ardor for the bill.

“Notes from the Hill” is provided by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy voice for the four Catholic dioceses of Massachusetts. “Notes from the Hill” is not an official statement of the bishops of Massachusetts or MCC.

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