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Obama defunds ‘snowflake babies’

Program aids in embryo adoption

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**FILE** A single cell is removed from a human embryo to be used in generating embryonic stem cells for scientific research. (Associated Press)

The federal government’s only program aimed at preventing the discarding of “extra” frozen human embryos is itself in danger of being discarded.

In a move that pro-lifers are calling more evidence of the Obama administration’s “pro-abortion slant,” the White House has sought to defund the Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign in its fiscal 2013 budget.

The Department of Health and Human Services “is not requesting funds for this program” because “the Embryo Adoption program will be discontinued in FY2013,” HHS officials said in a February funding report to Congress.

While some observers support this move as a way to free up funds for more urgent reproductive-health concerns, supporters of embryo adoption say this is the wrong time to abandon embryos that are sometimes called “snowflake babies.”

“I think that daily we talk to people about … embryo donation and adoption, and we hear the response, ‘Really? I didn’t know that was even possible,’” said Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which in 1997 pioneered the process of infertile couples “adopting” the extra embryos that another couple’s in-vitro fertilization process inevitably produces.

Hannah Strege, the first of these frozen, unique “snowflake” babies, was born in December 1998. Researchers think as many as 50,000 of the 600,000 cryogenically preserved embryos in the U.S. eventually could become available for adoption.

The fate of the embryo-adoption awareness program is not known. As with all White House budget requests, congressional appropriations committees will decide whether they become law.

Applicant pools

The HHS report said the reason to end the $1.9 million embryo-adoption awareness program is “limited interest.” Only a “very small pool of applicants, many of whom are repeat recipients,” are seeking the grants, it said.

Mailee Smith, staff counsel at Americans United for Life, said such a decision is more evidence of “the pro-abortion slant of this administration.”

“Why would the Obama administration cut $2 million for adoption awareness, but keep $1 million a day for Planned Parenthood?” she asked.

Also, having hundreds of thousands of frozen human embryos in storage “is a devastating situation” for many people, Ms. Smith said.

“What people disagree about is the solution for these embryos,” she said, and if there is no support for embryo adoption, “what we’re seeing is the elimination of the moral solution.”

Barbara Collura, executive director of Resolve: The National Infertility Association, said she thinks the $23 million Congress already has spent on embryo-adoption awareness has “done the trick.”

“To be honest, it doesn’t surprise me at all” to see the program defunded, said Ms. Collura, whose organization won more than $2 million in embryo-adoption awareness funds.

The funding certainly “made a difference in terms of people’s awareness about this family-building option,” and yet it serves a relatively small population, she said. “We have too many people who don’t know enough about” infertility, and “we would like to see more funding in general” for that.

Viable option

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 7.3 million women of childbearing age, or nearly 12 percent, have “impaired fecundity.” Male infertility is a significant issue, too, as about 17 percent of infertility is linked to the “male factor,” Ms. Collura said.

An embryo donation and adoption program is “a proven strategy” to help couples achieve parenthood, said Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, medical director at the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tenn., which has won $3.5 million in federal grants.

It also opens a door for couples with extra embryos who have moral objections to destroying them, either by discarding them or giving them to researchers, said Dr. Keenan, adding that the center has 150 “sets” of frozen embryos in storage, with up to 15 embryos in each set, waiting for adoptive parents.

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About the Author

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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