— President Bush has made what is arguably the most significant decision of his presidency to date: whether or not to fund potentially groundbreaking — but highly controversial — stem-cell research.
The president will announce his decision in a televised address to the nation at 9 ET tonight.
"This is a serious, difficult issue that the president has approached in a deliberate and thoughtful manner," deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters.
"The president has carefully considered all the scientific and ethical issues involved," McClellan added. "He wants to share his decision directly with the American people and why he reached the decision he has reached."
Morality and Medicine
Scientists say biomedical research using stem cells extracted from human embryos could lead to cures for a host of diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's, as well as treatments for debilitating brain and spinal injuries.
But abortion opponents, including leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, say the research is immoral because the embryos from which the cells are derived are destroyed in the process.
The president, himself a staunch opponent of abortion and a deeply religious Methodist, has been wrestling for weeks with what has been an ethical and political dilemma for him.
Bush unequivocally opposed federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research during last year's presidential campaign. But aides to the president had said he was genuinely "conflicted" about the issue since taking office and had been "agonizing" about his decision.
"This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for our nation 20 to 30 years down the road," McClellan said today.
A President Under Pressure
As the president deliberated, he came under immense pressure from advocates on both sides of the emotionally charged debate.
Anti-abortion groups and conservative members of Congress, including GOP leaders in the House and Senate, have all lobbied the president to ban federal funding. Pope John Paul II personally urged the president to reject embryonic stem-cell research when the two met during Bush's trip to Europe last month.
But moderate GOP members and a surprising number of conservatives Republicans — including Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Bill Frist of Tennessee and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina — who oppose abortion joined with Democrats to urge the president to fund the research, noting that thousands of human embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization treatments are routinely discarded by fertility clinics.
Hollywood celebrities such as Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, Mary Tyler Moore, who has diabetes, and Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, have publicly campaigned in support of the research.
The president met privately in recent weeks with dozens of people to discuss the issue, including lawmakers, leading anti-abortion advocates, representatives of people with various diseases, National Institutes of Health scientists and a group of bioethicists.
"This is an issue that many people, many Americans, find the more they learn about it, the more complex it is," said McClellan. "After consulting with dozens of people … the president, like the American people, realized this is a very complex issue and a complex decision."
McClellan said Bush made his "final decision" on Wednesday.
As the hour of his much-anticipated announcement approached, however, both sides sought to give the president some last-minute advice.
"If the president comes out with [a] decision short of the one that we hope he will make, it will be my expectation that we will schedule legislation sometime this fall … to fully fund stem-cell research," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters on Capitol Hill.
"To the president we say, 'Do not reduce human life to laboratory rats.' To the president we say, 'Do not use human life to fulfill scientific experiment,'" the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said at a demonstration outside the White House.
Mahoney said if the president has decided to abandon the position he took during the 2000 campaign, "he is writing his own script for being a one-term president — Mr. Bush will lose a major constituency."
Key Supporter ‘Comfortable’ With Bush Decision
The issue had divided the president's political party as well as many of his own advisers. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was a strong supporter of stem-cell research as governor of Wisconsin and had urged the president to approve federal funding. But chief political adviser Karl Rove warned Bush that doing so risked alienating his conservative political base as well as many Catholics, a key group of swing voters.
Thompson appeared to suggest today that Bush has not decided to ban federal funding.
"I'm fairly comfortable with the decision that the president is going to make," he said in an interview with ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "And I'm confident that the American people will be as well."
Administration officials said previously that Bush had been exploring a possible compromise on the issue — a policy that would allow funding for the controversial research, but with certain restrictions.
Bush's most comprehensive remarks so far on stem-cell research came during his trip to Europe last month.
"I take this issue very seriously, because it is an issue that, on the one hand, deals with so much hope — hope that perhaps through research and development we'll be able to save lives," he said at a July 23 news conference in Rome."[But,] it's also an issue that has got serious moral implications."
Bush will make his announcement tonight from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he is spending the bulk of a monthlong working vacation.