block federal funding for the procedure as a way of luring more Catholics to the Republican Party. Bush is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to support federal funding for stem cell research.

At a June 1 meeting at the White House, Bush told Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and the director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Richard Klausner, and others that he was genuinely undecided on how to proceed and urged them to craft a solution that captured the "middle ground," according to an administration official who spoke to ABCNEWS.

The poll findings could provide political cover for pro-life Republicans looking for a way to support stem cell research. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has written a letter to Bush urging him to allow it to continue. And Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who has a daughter with juvenile diabetes, and former Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., a cancer survivor, also support federal funding. They argue that destroying an embryo is not the same as an abortion.

Their statements have angered some pro-life leaders. "The senators have opened a Pandora's box that will undermine the movement they continue to say they're members of," says Gary Bauer in an accompanying Beliefnet article.

"This is a battle for George W. Bush's soul," says David Gushee, a Southern Baptist ethicist at Union University in Tennessee.

Why is there a gap between leadership and rank-and-file views?

One reason is that the debate is new and complicated, and people don't understand it. But another important reason is that many people desperately want research done to help their loved ones.

"Their compassion is well-placed, but you are not allowed to use any means necessary to pursue a good end," says Gushee.

John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron, says the issue pits people's anti-abortion views with other equally strong values--and in this way, Catholics and evangelicals are similar to other Americans.

"Even people who believe life begins at conception have a fairly pragmatic view on these sorts of things," Green said. "People like to support medical research. We're always raising money to battle various ailments. And I suspect that's what's really being reflected in the poll data."

But opponents say that just because it's for a good cause doesn't change the ethics of destroying the embryo.

"To destroy an embryo for research is tantamount to abortion, but to many people it's an even more direct and cold-blooded mistreatment of life," said Richard Doerflinger of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. "You don't have a conflict of rights--the unborn life pitted against the alleged needs of the mother to be free of the pregnancy. You have a researcher who wants research material, and that person is going to destroy another life."

Green said that, politically, Bush is probably better off deciding to limit stem cell research in order to appease Catholic and evangelical activists.

"Then these folks might go out and persuade the religious folks in the pews
More on the
Stem Cell Debate

  • Why Pro-Lifers Must Oppose Stem Cell Research By Gary Bauer
  • What Religious Leaders Say
  • What do you think? Discuss
  • A Stem Cell Primer