Sen. Bob Casey's first moment of truth in the U.S. Senate is approaching. And the issue is stem-cell research.
When he ran last year against Rick Santorum, Casey left no doubt where he stood on the sanctity of life. He was following in his father's footsteps.
That father, a two-term governor of Pennsylvania, never backed down from his pro-life convictions, despite the scorn it sometimes earned him from his Democratic colleagues - or the speaking slot it cost him at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
As a Senate candidate, the younger Casey didn't back down either. He repeatedly explained that his pro-life principles required him to oppose not only legalized abortion, but also the type of stem-cell research that kills human embryos.
When the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference asked him in a questionnaire whether he would support "providing legal protection for children from the moment of conception" if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Casey said he would.
When the PCC asked what his position was "on research that involves destroying live human embryos to obtain their stem cells for experimentation," Casey said he opposed it.
In an interview with the orthodox Catholic Web site IgnatiusInsight, Casey said he would have voted against the embryonic stem-cell bill sponsored in the last Congress by Rep. Michael N. Castle (R., Del.).
That bill, eventually vetoed by President Bush, would have used tax dollars to fund research that killed so-called "leftover" embryos at in-vitro fertilization clinics in order to extract their stem cells.
"I am and always have been pro-life," Casey told IgnatiusInsight. "I support the current federal policy on embryonic stem-cell research and would oppose the Castle bill to expand federal support of embryonic stem-cell research. . . . As a U.S. senator, I will strongly support funding for stem-cell research that doesn't destroy an embryo. There are many promising techniques under development that don't require destroying the embryo, and there's good reason to hope that soon we'll be able to remove the politics from this issue."
Casey's stand echoed Santorum's. As a result, the pro-life issue was taken off the table in the Pennsylvania Senate race.
Casey, of course, won, taking 36 percent of the pro-life vote from Santorum, according to a CNN exit poll.
Now his moment of truth is approaching.
Given his campaign commitment to oppose federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and given the role pro-life Pennsylvanians played in electing him, you would think the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 would be a no-brainer for Casey. Yet, suddenly there is some question about his position.
This bill, which passed the House in January, is essentially the same as the measure Castle sponsored in the last Congress - the one candidate Casey opposed. If enacted over Bush's promised veto, this year's bill (just like last year's) would force taxpayers to fund killing "leftover" human embryos stored at fertility clinics.
Despite the position candidate Casey took last year, bloggers pushing for embryonic stem-cell funding this year - bloggers including the Daily Kos and Californians for Cure - have listed him as one of the "Swingable Seven," a group of senators who might be swayed on the issue.
Congressional Quarterly Today reported last week that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) might be just one vote short of the number needed to override a presidential veto of the bill. That is assuming two Senate Democrats will vote against the bill: Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Casey.
Congressional Quarterly Today also reported that Casey "said he was still studying the measure." Studying it? What part of this issue could Casey have forgotten in the few short months since he was elected? Could he have forgotten he believes life deserves protection from conception? Could he have forgotten taxpayers should not be forced to pay for the taking of what he himself affirms is a human life?
Who would have thought that so soon in his Senate career young Casey would face a defining dilemma: Will he still follow in his father's footsteps, or trample on his legacy?