WASHINGTON – President Bush used his first-ever veto Wednesday to block the expansion of embryonic stem cell research, insisting the bill would have encouraged the taking of unborn human life.

“If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would, for the first time in our history, be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos, and I’m not going to allow it,” Bush said.

He announced his veto at an event where he was surrounded by “snowflake” babies and toddlers born from leftover frozen embryos adopted from parents who had undergone in-vitro fertilization.

“These boys and girls are not spare parts,” Bush said. “This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others.”

Critics liken stem cell research to abortion, but advocates say it could lead to cures for devastating illnesses such as cancer and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Democrats and Republicans say the debate will play out in the November elections.

The reelection campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., jumped on Bush’s veto.

“It is indefensible that President Bush’s first veto could cost of millions of lives,” her campaign said in a fund-raising letter. “We need to stop him.”

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Bush “crushed the hopes of millions who suffer from serious and debilitating diseases.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush believes “it’s inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder.”

But Republicans like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nancy Reagan had urged Bush not to veto the measure, saying the move could threaten human life by curtailing medical research for potential cures of deadly diseases.

Even Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, GOP presidential front-runner Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah broke with Bush over the veto. Like Bush, all three oppose abortion.

Still, supporters of the bill did not have enough votes in Congress to override the veto.

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