Mitt Romney will deliver a major speech Thursday to try to silence conservative critics of the health care plan he signed as Massachusetts governor, but the choice of venue - the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center - could open up a new line of attack on the potential presidential candidate.
The center is part of UM’s medical school, where researchers are “vigorously” pursuing studies on stem cell lines extracted from leftover human embryos donated by fertility clinics, which many conservatives say violates core pro-life beliefs.
“His choice of location for the announcement raises questions as to his true pro-life commitment from conception to natural death,” said Andy Blom, executive director of the conservative pressure group American Principles Project. “Let us remind him and all 2012 candidates: There will be no truces on social issues in the conservative movement.”
In what’s viewed as part of his broader effort to erase any doubt about his views on government-run health care, Mr. Romney’s presidential exploratory committee announced he’ll roll out his plan Thursday for repealing and replacing President Obama’s health care overhaul, with the Cardiovascular Center as his backdrop.
He’s also expected to defend his decision to sign a state-level universal health coverage plan when he was governor of Massachusetts - a decision some Republicans say should disqualify him from being their nominee to face Mr. Obama next year.
Jim Erickson, science writer at the University of Michigan’s news service, said that the medical school uses embryonic stem cells that are “leftovers that would have been discarded from fertility clinics.”
Since Michigan law changed in 2008, Mr. Erickson said the center has pursued the research “vigorously.”
“We are considered a leader in adult stem cell research, but we are playing catch-up on the embryonic stem cell side,” he said.
Mr. Romney’s press release announcing the speech doesn’t mention stem cell research, and representatives for Mr. Romney didn’t return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Stem cell research became a major political issue under President George W. Bush, who approved a policy that allowed federal funding for research on stem cell lines that had already been extracted but prohibited funding for any newly extracted lines.
And the stem cell quandary has dogged Mr. Romney, too.
In 2002, running for governor, he embraced embryonic stem cell research in “broad terms,” according to the Boston Globe, saying he would lobby Mr. Bush to back it as well.
Once in office, though, Mr. Romney vetoed a bill that would have expanded embryonic stem cell research to include cloning of human embryos. He later said it was grappling with that issue - and a key conversation he had with a Harvard University stem cell researcher - that launched him on the journey from being “effectively pro-choice” to becoming pro-life.
Instead, he argued on behalf of what he said was a middle ground: It was unethical to create embryos for the sake of research, but it would be OK to experiment on already-existing stem cell lines and to extract new lines from embryos that would otherwise be discarded - such as those from fertility clinics.
He did support a ban on federal funding for research on newly created embryonic stem cell lines.
Jim Sedlak, vice president of American Life League, said pro-lifers “will be watching closely to see if the governor defends human life from the moment of creation or if he expresses a belief that some human embryos are considered only valuable enough to be used in research to benefit others.”
“Just like any other human being, they have value, they have worth and they should not be experimented on,” Mr. Sedlak said, adding that “we certainly would be disappointed that anyone who declares himself pro-life would not use this opportunity where he is to stand up for embryonic human beings.”
Mr. Romney is considered a front-runner in the early Republican field of potential presidential contenders after a strong showing in the 2008 presidential primary.
Grassroots activists, though, still struggle to square his stances in 2008 with his more liberal positions when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994 and governor in 2002.
• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at email@example.com.
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