Anti-Abortion Activists Have a Big Problem With the Ice Bucket Challenge

Anti-Abortion Activists Have a Big Problem With the Ice Bucket Challenge

The viral ice bucket campaign has raised $79.7 million dollars for the neurodegenerative ALS, garnering a huge amount of attention by supporters, as well as opponents. Those staying away from the challenge have stated a variety of reasons, ranging from worries that it trivializes the disease to concerns about animal testing and the fact that dousing that many buckets on people's heads wastes water — a lot of water

Now it seems Catholic leaders and anti-choice groups like the American Life League have joined the anti-challenge brigade, creating an unholy alliance with the likes of PETA spokeswoman Pamela Anderson and advocates for healthy drinking water in central China. According to these groups, no one should be supporting the Ice Bucket Challenge because no one should be supporting the ALS Association's research, which kills embryos and therefore human life.

In an unfortunate twist to what has so far been a largely successful — and bipartisan — campaign for the ALS Association, organizations and churches are now calling on believers and anti-abortion supporters to stop donations that are being used to find relief for those suffering from the crippling, and as-yet incurable, disease.

Take, for instance, the Roman Catholic archdiocese in New Jersey, which recently warned pastors at its 218 parishes and 94 Catholic schools against holding the challenges. The archdiocese's letter claimed that the idea behind the campaign conflicts with church teachings because the ALS Association, which receives money from ice bucket challenges worldwide, also funds embryonic stem cell research.


Another Roman Catholic diocese in Ohio has taken the anti-bucket challenge stance even further, asking its 113 Catholic schools to not only stop participating in ice bucket challenges but to also "immediately cease" any plans to raise funds for the ALS Association now or in the future.

"It's such a shame that the ALS Association ... chooses to support research that thrives from experimenting on and killing tiny, innocent human beings," pro-life advocacy group Live Action's president, Lila Rose, said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews

However Rose's critique is highly misleading. Indeed, the ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research, which should not have any ethical conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The association also told ThinkProgress that they are funding only one study that uses embryonic stem cells, and that this study is funded by "one specific donor who is committed to this area of research."

Simply put, the money that ice bucket challenges have raised so far hasn't been earmarked for any particular studies by the ALS Association yet, so there's no reason to believe the majority — or even any — of the dollars donated will be dedicated to embryonic research.

The controversy over embryonic stem cell research has always been one of apparent contradictions, notes Slate's Amanda Marcotte: "Life, apparently, is at its most precious in the cellular form, as opposed to the your-beloved-grandmother-who-is-dying-of-ALS form."

Ironically, the anti-embryonic protests were potentially strongest during George W. Bush's administration, which placed an emphasis on faith-based giving, abstinence-only sex education and a return to so-called family values.

According to George and Laura Bush's Ice Bucket Challenge video, however, it is exactly those kinds of values that prompted the power couple to open their own wallets for ALS research.



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Smriti Sinha

Smriti is a multimedia journalist trained at the Columbia School of Journalism. Before moving to New York, she was a sports reporter at The Indian Express in New Delhi. She continues to cover issues in sports, women's and LGBT rights.

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