When does life begin? That was the question Pastor Rick Warren famously asked then-Sen. Barack Obama at last August's forum at Saddleback Church in California. Obama smiled and professed not to know, stating famously that this was all "above my pay grade."

Not any more. On Monday, Obama gave a cold, clear answer to Warren's question: Human embryos are not human life worthy of any legal protection.

Henceforth, our federal government will treat these little human beings - a mere "collection of cells," according to embryonic stem-cell advocates - with no more respect than the frog you dissected in high school biology. Obama's federal government will officially bless this research by giving millions of your tax dollars to scientists who will create and kill human embryos by the thousands.

For the pro-life community, federally funded embryonic stem-cell research is a nightmare scenario.

Thanks to both high-resolution fetal ultrasounds and the recent debate over partial-birth abortions, opinion polls now reflect a pro-life shift, most especially among our youth. Ultrasounds and partial-birth abortion have revealed that the "choice" results in the death of a baby in the womb.

In a society increasingly driven by compelling visuals and strong emotions, abortion, particularly after the first weeks of pregnancy, looks and feels wrong.

But the reaction to an eight-cell embryo is different. Harvesting a cell from that "collection of cells" - a procedure that results in the death of the remaining cells - evokes little emotional response or moral outrage.

Indeed, scientists and patient groups have successfully argued that the only real moral issue is the moral imperative to help the sick with this "promising" research.

But are any treatments with embryonic stem cells being used today? No.

Are there any anticipated in the near future? No.

Are there research alternatives that don't involve the moral hazard of taking a human life? Yes, adult stem cells.

Are there adult stem-cell therapies being used today? Yes.

Finally, are there adult cells of similar potency needed in the more advanced therapies being contemplated with embryonic stem cells? Yes.

Ironically, Reuters reported this month, scientists in the United Kingdom and Canada "had found a safer way to transform ordinary skin cells into powerful stem cells in a move that could eventually remove the need to use human embryos."

President Obama knew all of this Monday, when he repealed the directive to the National Institutes of Health that focused research dollars on the more promising, less ethically objectionable adult stem-cell research.

And then, in the same breath, he charged those who implemented that policy lacked "integrity," opposed "free and open inquiry," and have subjected scientists to "manipulation and coercion."

So, according to Obama, unless you support creating human life for the purpose of killing it for research purposes, you lack integrity and are against free and open inquiry.

The missing story line here is this: The scientific community has successfully fought off society's placing any ethical constraint on the "advance of science."

Obama, with his customary eloquence, has just taken us another step toward a world in which "science" trumps morality and sense, a world in which right or wrong, ethical or unethical has no place in the pursuit of "progress."

The president, according to news reports, "drew kudos from medical researchers," who are finally unshackled from the anti-science President Bush, who refused to make funds available for research that patient groups said would yield cures to just about everything.

But the president in the previous paragraph was Bill Clinton. The year was 1995, and the President Bush was Bush 41. The issue was harvesting and doing research on the tissue of aborted fetuses. It was the last "can't-miss" science project that just had to have federal funds.

Another moral line crossed, for cures that never came.

President Obama is now the mouthpiece for those who would like to cut down all of the moral trees that stand in the way of science. Those trees have provided protection over the centuries for many abuses in the name of science. Today we willingly grab the ax handle to clear the field without a thought of what may come when one day science, unfettered from morality, sees you as the next impediment to progress.

E-mail Rick Santorum at rsantorum@phillynews.com.