With each passing day it becomes more apparent that President Obama has little respect for the intelligence of his ideological opponents. If you don’t agree with him, he assumes it is because you “don’t understand the issue.” In other words, you are ignorant, or misinformed, or both. We saw this attitude at work during the debate over Obamacare, and most recently with the conflict over his contraception coverage requirement and its implications for the First Amendment liberty of private religious employers. This week, we’re seeing it play out in the always-contentious debate over government involvement in embryonic stem cell research.
Whenever he is challenged, the president tries to ignore or discredit his opposition, and if this proves unsuccessful, he attempts to placate his foes with meaningless “compromises.” In the case of the birth control mandate, the president claimed to put the concerns of religious employers to rest by shifting the burden to their insurance companies. Never fear, he assured the religion-clinging, gun-toting opponents of his progressive insurance mandate, if you are a religious employer and oppose covering birth control costs for your employees, we’ll just make your insurance provider pay for it. Problem solved and conscience clear. Never mind that anyone with an iota of common sense can see this phony compromise for the rhetorical bait-and-switch that it is. At the end of the day, religious employers will still be required to offer health insurance policies that cover contraception, and they will still be footing the bill for said contraception in the form of higher premiums that are sure to result from insurance companies passing along the cost of the president’s mandate.
This week, another of the president’s infamous “compromises” is in the spotlight, namely his executive order expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Stymied by existing law limiting the government’s involvement in this ethically troubling area of “scientific” work, the president crafted a workaround based on rhetorical hair-splitting, issued his order, and the dollars began flowing. The Alliance Defense Fund filed suit to enjoin the funding and in 2010 a federal judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the executive order. Judge Royce Lambert saw the president’s policy for what it was: a complete disregard for the law based on a distinction without a difference:
“The judge ruled that the Obama administration’s policy was illegal because the administration’s distinction between work that leads to the destruction of embryos – which cannot be financed by the federal government under the current policy – and the financing of work using stem cells created through embryonic destruction was meaningless. ... In other words, the neat lines that the government had drawn between the process of embryonic destruction and the results of that destruction are not valid, the judge ruled.”
As with so many other issues, the president’s actions on ESCR illustrate his inability to identify with the moral and ethical concerns of anyone whose worldview differs from his own.
As incomprehensible as it may seem to President Obama, many Americans, myself included, view ESCR as morally repugnant and ethically flawed because it involves the destruction of human embryos. Tiny though they may be, each embryo possesses all the genetic material necessary to mature into a distinct human being. To take nascent life and destroy it for the sake of “scientific research” is to fly in the face of the self-evident truths articulated in our Declaration of Independence. As Americans, we claim to believe that all humans are endowed with an inalienable right to life. Those of us that embrace this principle to its full extent believe that no human being should be the subject of such experimentation. We believe that human rights and human dignity are not diminished by the size of human subject. In other words, big people don’t have more rights than small ones. Neither should age be a factor, or cognitive sophistication. An embryo’s age and early stage of development doesn’t vitiate its humanity. Likewise, the circumstances of conception (in vitro vs. in utero, planned vs. unplanned, voluntary vs. involuntary) do not diminish our humanity. Once a human being is in existence, he or she has a right to the same constitutional protections as other human beings.
President Obama’s insistence on pushing this issue – despite the demonstrated success of non-controversial alternatives like adult stem cell research – reveals that he values advancing ideology over seeking unity through common ground. His administration advocates one point of view with regard to human embryos and their instrumental value to the scientific community, and from that point of view the Administration is unwilling to depart. Why else would they remove funding from a program that allows the adoption of surplus embryos, and why would they end funding for non-controversial alternatives to ESCR? As I’ve said before, if you want to know what a president values, just look at how he spends your money.
The fate of President Obama’s executive order now rests with a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. Hopefully, in this venue, the law will prevail over ideology.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty. He is also chairman of the Center for a Just Society.
Publication date: May 2, 2012