The Truth About the Dickey-Wicker Amendment

When discussing the issue of life, one quickly becomes familiar with the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Roe v. Wade.

Pro-life activists, legislators, and lawyers have been whittling down the decision ever since its unfortunate inception in 1973. An important step in this process was the Hyde Amendment, which was first introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde in 1997 and prevents the federal government from directly funding abortions.

Notice the use of the term directly. Such terminology is used because, despite the Hyde Amendment’s intentions, the federal government has continued to provide support for abortions by funding supposed family planning services such as Planned Parenthood. Needless to say, both the House of Representatives and numerous state legislatures are making excellent strides in efforts to shutdown this indirect anti-life funding.

If public funding for abortion was the only issue, one would have to admit that, at least for the moment, America is headed in the right direction. Sadly, while experiencing success in limiting abortion funding, we are losing the fight to limit embryonic stem cell research.

To be certain, this topic has received a great deal of press coverage. Even so, it does not seem to be at the forefront of public thought. Especially due to recent events, standing against embryonic stem cell research must again become a top priority for the pro-life movement.

Recall that, in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order which overturned President Bush’s limitations on embryonic stem cell research. Bush’s order had allowed federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells obtained from already destroyed embryos. Most importantly, it prevented federal funds from being used to support research on additional destroyed embryos. In this way, federal funding could, in no way, be seen as promoting the destruction of life.

Only two days after signing an executive order allowing federal funding for seemingly unlimited embryonic stem cell research, President Obama signed the “Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009.” On page 280, or Section 509 of Title V, one can find language explicitly contradicting Obama’s executive order.

This language is commonly known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 1996 by Reps. Jay Dickey and Roger Wicker and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment specifically prohibits the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from using any appropriated federal funds to support research involving the harming of an embryo. Specifically, it states that:

(a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for—(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under 45 CFR 46.204(b) and section 498(b) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 289g(b)). (b) For purposes of this section, the term ‘‘human embryo or embryos’’ includes any organism, not protected as a human subject under 45 CFR 46 as of the date of the enactment of this Act, that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes or human diploid cells.

So, it is very clear, to even the casual observer, that the president’s executive order stands in direct opposition to a bill he signed only two days later. Lawsuits seeking to prevent the NIH from using federal funding to support embryo-harming research, as the terms of Obama’s executive order allows, have cited the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which has been signed into law each year since 1996.

Last August, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth properly observed, “Embryonic stem sell (ESC) research necessarily depends upon the destruction of a human embryo.” It is this reasoning that led him to conclude that NIH’s argument that only the harvesting of stem cells from embryos was prohibited by federal law was, in fact, inaccurate. While Lamberth has not yet issued a judgment in the case, he did issue an injunction requiring federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to be suspended until his decision is announced.

Recently, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC lifted Judge Lamberth’s injunction. On April 29, the panel, in a 2-1 decision, decided that taxpayer money could, in fact, be used to fund research involving the destruction of embryos while Lamberth makes his decision.

On what could the appellate court have based its reasoning? Believe it or not, the primary reason was that the two justices in the majority simply doubted that Lamberth would rule in favor of the researchers challenging the president’s executive order. The secondary motivation was that the justices felt the Dickey-Wicker Amendment was very ambiguous. They argued that the Obama Administration had adequately defended its position that it had complied with the Dickey-Wicker language in every way.

In the end, a federal law passed by Congress, and signed by the president each year since 1996, has been thrown upon the trash heap of history. Why? Because the Obama Administration, despite evidence to the contrary, promised its executive order fully complies with the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

If a culture of life is to flourish in the United States, we must be ever vigilant. That’s why it is so critical that we carry out the SBA List mission of electing pro-life leaders, especially to the U.S. Senate. We must ever press our Senators to support the nomination of Supreme Court Justices who will truly defend the Constitutional lawmaking process. This is the only manner by which we can ever hope to ensure the right to life.


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