Legislation granting fertilized embryos "personhood" has gained momentum in at least three state legislatures. The strategy -- which has been used to try to undermine the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion -- is now aimed at embryonic stem cell research. The scientific field uses stem cells from human embryos, which can develop into different kinds of adult cells, to seek answers about human health.
Opposition to both abortion and stem cell research hinges on the same issue: When does life begin? As a result, embryonic stem cell research has become the latest front in the decades-old battle over abortion.
In Georgia, a measure that would ban some forms of stem cell research on fertilized embryos is moving quickly through the state Senate. The bill would outlaw the destruction of fertilized embryos, which the legislation defines as a person. It is expected to face a vote in the full state Senate today.
Similar "personhood" measures have cleared one chamber each in Montana and North Dakota.
They come in the wake of a Colorado ballot initiative that said human life begins at conception. It failed to win voter approval last year.
Sean Tipton, director of public affairs at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said legislation that would affect stem cell research has been introduced in several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina.
Mr. Tipton said advocacy groups are targeting states where they have the best chance of success.
One of those is Georgia, where Gov. Sonny Perdue has said he opposes embryonic stem cell research, even as he tries to lure biotech companies to the state.
Opponents say the Georgia Senate bill would be a blow to the state's thriving research universities, and to fertility clinics.
"We have the president of the United States saying he is going to put science ahead of politics, and unfortunately in Georgia we are moving in the opposite directions," said state Sen. David Adelman, a Democrat.