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Stem cell research re-emerges as campaign issue in Missouri

Chris Koster
Chris Koster

It’s been nearly a decade since stem cell research was a focus of Missouri politics.

The 2016 race to become Missouri’s next governor might change that.

In 2006, Missouri voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that any federally allowed stem cell research and therapy can occur in Missouri, including on human embryos.

At the time Chris Koster was a Republican state senator from Cass County, and he broke with his party to support the amendment. A year later he left the Republican Party completely, becoming a Democrat and citing GOP opposition to embryonic stem cell research as a prime reason for the switch.

Today he’s Missouri’s attorney general and the Democratic frontrunner to replace Gov. Jay Nixon when his term expires next year.

And he’s ready to rekindle the old fight with his former party.

Last week The Columbia Tribune’s Rudi Keller reported on the anti-abortion organization Missouri Right to Life’s recent declaration that it would renew the fight against embryonic stem cell research – specifically targeting public funding for the practice at state universities.

The group pointed to recent success working with GOP lawmakers to pressure the University of Missouri to cut ties with a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia that recently started performing medical abortions.

“Let us finally write into statute a ban on tax dollars for research that kills human embryos,” Missouri Right to Life said in a post on its website.

Koster responded to the Tribune article with a statement decrying opponents of stem cell research and demanding his Republican gubernatorial rivals make their position on the issue public.

“Missourians deserve to know where government leaders, and would be government leaders, stand on this important issue,” he said.

Three of the GOP candidates — Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and businessman John Brunner — released separate statements expressing support for a ban on public funding for embryonic stem cell research.

All three candidates also emphasized their support for other types of stem cell research that don’t involve human embryos.

A fourth candidate – former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens – released a statement declaring that Missouri should “promote life, protect innocent life and defend life.”

When pressed to clarify his position Friday, Greitens released a one-sentence addition to his original statement saying simply, “I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research.”

A fifth Republican candidate, state Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield, has not made his position public.

It should be noted that even after voters approved the amendment to Missouri’s constitution protecting human embryonic stem cell research, opponents continued to press on. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol the following January with several Republicans pushing bills aimed at curbing certain procedures. Additionally, opponents blocked $85 million in funding for a research facility at the Univesrity of Missouri-Columbia over the issue.

In 2007, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research suspended plans for a $300 million expansion in Kansas City, blaming a “persistent negative political climate” toward embryonic stem cell research in Missouri.

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