With President Bush promising a veto, it may have been little more than a protest vote. But the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would significantly expand federal funding of research on embryonic stem cells.
After more than three hours of impassioned yet (mostly) civil debate, 50 Republicans joined 187 Democrats and the House's lone independent in support of H.R. 810,  which would allow the National Institutes of Health to finance research involving embryos from in vitro fertilization that would otherwise be discarded. The 238 to 194 vote would not be enough to override President Bush's veto.
Since August 2001, when the president issued an executive order, federally sponsored research has been limited to several dozen lines of embryonic stem cells that already existed at that time, although private and state research efforts have grown. The president objected then -- as he did at an emotional news conference in advance of Tuesday's vote with families with children born from donated embryos -- that using embryos for research purposes requires the "destruction of human life."
"This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," Bush said Tuesday. "Crossing this line would be a great mistake."
Opponents of H.R. 810 advanced similar arguments during the floor debate over the measure; several displayed photographs of embryos in an effort to humanize them, and one played a recording of a fetal heartbeat.
Proponents of the measure and of the research engaged in some political gamesmanship of their own, using posters of children with diseases like diabetes that they argue embryonic stem cell research has the potential to eradicate.
Ultimately, that promise led dozens of Republicans -- many of whom sought in their comments to burnish their anti-abortion credentials even as they parted company with party leaders on this issue -- to support the bill. "For America to stand back because of a moral principle and not allow this scientific research to proceed is unconscionable," said Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.).
Supporters of embryonic stem cell research in the Senate, where backing is thought to be stronger, said they would act quickly to pass their own legislation in the wake of the House vote.