News Politics

Congressman Touts Stem-Cell Lab Tour Despite Opposing Stem-Cell Research

Jason Salzman

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who’s widely seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in Congress, touted his visit to a stem-cell laboratory even though he’s on record opposing research with embryonic stem cells, which are used in the lab he toured.

Rep. Mike Coffman is on record opposing embryonic stem-cell research, but that didn’t stop the Colorado Republican from touring a stem-cell laboratory at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and tweeting, “Happy to get the chance to tour the Stem Cell Research facility.”

A spokesman for the school, which is located in Coffman’s district, confirmed that the stem-cell facility visited by Coffman November 8 uses stem cells obtained from human embryos.

In 2008 and 2010, Coffman supported Colorado’s failed “personhood” initiatives, which aimed to define life as beginning at conception, when embryos form, and would have banned not only embryonic stem-cell research but also all abortions and some common forms of birth control.

Coffman’s November 8 tweet about his tour of the stem-cell facility included a photo of the Congressman viewing laboratory machines.

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“This is a ‘what’s wrong with this picture’ situation,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of Pro-Choice Colorado, in an email offering a response to Coffman’s tweet. “Mike Coffman’s support for anti-choice personhood measures and his opposition to stem-cell research don’t really fit here. If he is sincere about supporting women and science, he needs to issue a statement about his new policy position, not just stage a photo-op.”

Coffman’s office did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Coffman’s opposition to embryonic stem-cell research was spotlighted in a political advertisement by the House Majority Project during the 2012 election, which Coffman won by a 2 percent margin over Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi.

A fact check of the ad by 9News, Denver’s local NBC affiliate, confirmed Coffman’s opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.

9News reported, “This year, Congressman Coffman was asked point blank by Colorado Right to Life, ‘Will you oppose any research or practice that would intentionally destroy the tiniest living humans, embryonic stem cell research?’ With a pen he wrote, ‘Yes.'”

9News also reported, “A spokesperson says, he isn’t against stem-cell research in general, just embryonic, because the cells are harvested from embryos, and he says, that is a human life.”

Responding to Coffman’s position, Rep. Diana Degette (D-CO) said last year, “If a candidate like Mike Coffman says, ‘I don’t support embryonic stem cell research but I support other types,’ that’s not supporting the full range of ethical stem cell research, which could block off research into some diseases and would impede the progress of the research in general.”

University of Colorado School of Medicine spokesperson Mark Couch said that the university’s stem-cell laboratory, called the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology, mostly relies on induced pluripotent stem cells, which are derived from adult stem cells, though embryonic stem cells are also used.

“The [embryonic stem-cell] lines that have been approved by the federal government are used for comparison purposes with the induced pluripotent stem cells,” said Couch.

Coffman’s congressional seat is widely seen as one of the most competitive in the country, after it was re-drawn after the 2010 Census. Political observers here expect the stem-cell issue to come into play again next year, as it did in 2012, as Coffman and his Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff vie for the support of moderates, especially women and Hispanics, whose votes will likely decide the election.

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