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Frist Backs Stem Cell Research

In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist speaks from the floor of the Senate Friday, July 29, 2005, in Washington in support of legislation to remove some of the current administration's limitations on embryonic stem cell research. Frist, an abortion opponent who just last month said he did not support expanding federal financing of research on embryos, said his decision was consistent with both his experience as a physician and his anti-abortion stance. (AP Photo/APTN)
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Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Friday threw his support behind House-passed legislation to expand federal financing for human embryonic stem cell research, breaking with President Bush and religious conservatives in a move that could impact his prospects for seeking the White House in 2008.

"It's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science," Frist, R-Tenn., said on the floor of the Senate.

Frist's announcement immediately dented his support among Christian conservatives.

"Sen. Frist should not expect support and endorsement from the pro-life community if he votes for embryonic research funding," the Christian Defense Coalition said in a statement as Frist finished his speech.

"Senator Frist cannot have it both ways. He cannot be pro-life and pro-embryonic stem cell funding," said Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the group. "Nor can he turn around and expect widespread endorsement from the pro-life community if he should decide to run for president in 2008."

CBS News Political Editor Dotty Lynch reports that Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council blasted Frist for "capitualting to the bio-tech industry" and called his announcement " very disappointing."

Earlier this year, Frist appeared to be courting these groups who carry a lot of weight in Republican primaries and caucuses, Lynch reports. He supported the decision to keep providing nourishment to Terry Schiavo and stood with the Christian conservatives on judicial nominations. He also appeared on videotape at the much touted "Justice Sunday" rally at wich organizers denounced Democrats as ''against people of faith'' for blocking judicial nominees.

The announcement drew praise from perhaps the most powerful advocate for the reasearch, former first lady Nancy Reagan.

"I was heartened by Senator Frist's support," she said in a statement. "Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to alleviate so much suffering. Surely, by working together we can harness its life-giving potential. Thank you, Dr. Frist, for standing up for America's patients." The late former President Ronald Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Lynch added that a group supporting embryonic stem cell resarch has announced it will pull a TV ad in the early primary state of New Hamshire which attacked Frist for delay tactics on the stem cell bill. Stem Cell PAC began running the ad on Thursday night and today said it would take it down.

"As stem cell activists, and indeed as Americans, we need to thank Dr. Frist - and we need to work even harder to call upon other members of Congress and the President to join Dr. Frist and the overwhelming majority of Americans who support stem cell research, and the hope it offers," said John Hlinko the group's spokesman.