This partial transcript from The Edge with Paula Zahn, June 27, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.   

PAULA ZAHN, HOST:  "Leading THE EDGE" tonight: a tragedy in Texas.  Today a father of five faced a heart-breaking task no parent can imagine.  Russell Yates buried his four sons and one daughter, all drowned by their mother.  Before saying a final good-bye, Yates personally eulogized each of the children because, he says, he wanted them to be remembered as individuals.  Their mother, who is said to be in deep psychosis, was not allowed to attend the funeral.

Joining us tonight with reaction is Reverend Pat Robertson, president and founder of the Christian Coalition.

Welcome back to The Edge, Reverend.

REV. PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN COALITION:  Thanks, Paula.  Good to be with you.

ZAHN:  Oh, well, thank you so much.

It was so wrenching for all of us who watched Russell Yates bury his five children today.  And I'm wondering, as you look at the tragedy of the story, if you view Andrea Yates, the woman who killed these five children, their mother, as an evil woman or a troubled woman who did a very evil thing?

ROBERTSON:  You know, Paula, I'm a father of four.  I've got 14 grandchildren.  And these precious children that were killed were so beautiful.  They were model children.  And it must tear that community all to pieces to think of this terrible tragedy.

But I think this woman went over the edge in some deep psychosis.  They say she had postpartum depression after the fourth child.  And then, of course, there was the death of her father that may have sent her over.  Now, if she was taking some kind of anti-depressant drugs -- and we're not sure what it could have done, but I suspect that that could have pushed her over the edge, and that's what happened.

But I don't conceive of her as an evil woman at all.  I mean, these -- this -- this was a model mother all up to this time.  So I think she's insane.

ZAHN:  So what do you think?  Do you think that's the only explanation for what happened here?  Or were her signals that she sent all being ignored?  Are family members to blame, and the medical community?

ROBERTSON:  Well, you know, people act strangely from time to time.  It's almost part of being a normal human being.  From time to time, you may act a bit odd, especially after the traumatic birth of a child.  But that's something lasts for a few months, max, then these people snap out of it.

And -- but the strain -- you know, any mother, as you well know, of five small children is under strain, you know, just having that burden.  I mean, these are little kids.  She didn't get a chance to sleep.  She doesn't have as much adult companionship.  So I frankly wouldn't blame anybody.  I just think, in her case, it was just more than she could bear.

ZAHN:  You display empathy for this woman tonight, and yet we all need to recognize she comes from a community or a county that sends more convicted felons to death row than any other county in the country.  Do you think Andrea Yates, then, deserves to die or not?

ROBERTSON:  Absolutely not.  You know, I have been one who's called for a moratorium on the death penalty.  And the situation in Texas, with all due deference to my good friends in Texas, is somewhat appalling.  I think that the clemency review board is flawed.  The way they do these things is not well carried out, in my opinion.  But there's no way that that woman should go to the death chamber.  I think that she needs psychiatric care, frankly.  I mean, she's a sick woman.  This is -- this is a mental sickness.  This isn't some premeditated murder, I think, from some vicious woman.  I don't see it that way at all.

ZAHN:  We haven't seen President Bush publicly offer his reaction to this and whether he thought or not that Andrea Yates deserves to die for this crime.  But what is your reaction to what the president has said so far about the death penalty?  Are you troubled by what you might think is his lack of sensitivity towards some of the issues you've just raised?

ROBERTSON:  Well, I remember back, that beautiful woman down there that was on death row that we went to see.  She was in that situation for 13 years.  She became a born-again Christian.  We went and prayed with her.  She gave a testimony, you know, the day before she was executed that -- I mean, everybody in our studio was crying.  We aired it across the nation, and there were tears in my eyes.  It was overwhelming.  And yet the governor sort of washed his hands of it.  As a matter of fact, there was nothing he could have done about it.

You know, I favor the death penalty.  A guy like Timothy McVeigh, that cold-bloodedly blows up a federal building and kills 68 or 70 people -- he deserves to die.  It was a cold-blooded act.  But in this case, mental illness is certainly an excuse.

ZAHN:  All right.  I want to move you on to another issue that is extremely controversial in the nation's capital right now, and that's the issue of using embryonic cells for stem cell research.  Do you believe that there is a difference between a fertilized egg in a test tube and a fetus?

ROBERTSON:  I don't.  You know, I'm one who believes that life begins at conception.

ZAHN:  Whether it's in a test tube or whether it's in a woman's body?

ROBERTSON:  Either way.  I've debate -- you know, we have a fertility clinic here in Norfolk, Virginia, and the very nice couple who were engaged in that research, oh, several decades ago came to see me to explain what they were doing.  They said, "Look, we just want to help childless couples have babies."  And I said, "That's a very noble thing, but my problem is, once you have a child in a test tube, he's going to be treated as if he's a disposable part."  And what I feared has come about in this research.

It started with a very noble motive, to try to help childless couples, infertile couples, have babies.  But I think a child, when the cells begin to divide, the logical conclusion is they go all the way to maturity, and I can't see cutting the process short.

ZAHN:  Well, what I'd like to ask you on the other side is your reaction to some of what former senator Connie Mack has had to say about this, a pro-life Catholic, a cancer survivor himself, who actually does make a distinction between the two.

Here was what Connie Mack has to say about the potential of stem cell researchers.  Quote, "As both a cancer survivor and a pro-life Catholic, I have struggled with this issue myself.  Yet after weighing the facts and the moral issues, I am convinced that the right choice is clear.  I hope the president allows federal support to continue this vital research."

And it seems, if you look at these latest statistics from a poll that was done, that Americans believe that this should be allowed and this should be funded, almost by a 2-to-1 margin.  So are you surprised by the amount of support for this?  And why are these folks wrong?

ROBERTSON:  Well, I'm not saying they're wrong.  I mean, I respect Connie Mack.  He is a wonderful human being, and I mean that with all sincerity.  And he's wrestled with this issue.  And I do, too because I don't know all the facts of this thing.  But Paula, what we're talking about now is stem cell research.  They haven't really found these stem cells that will differentiate themselves and go into a brain with Parkinson's or somebody with cancer or so forth.  And there's an enormous amount of research that's got to be done.

And I wonder if perhaps they couldn't use umbilical cords.  They're talking about some of the products of liposuction, you know, adult cells that might do as well as the embryonic cells.  And they've also talked about cadavers -- you know, brain cells...

ZAHN:  Sure.

ROBERTSON:  ... out of people who, you know, died unexpectedly without disease, that might be used for this purpose.

ZAHN:  But here's what I want to ask you.

ROBERTSON:  Yes.

ZAHN:  For people who are fearful that you would create this -- sort of like a farm that would create embryos -- what Connie Mack is saying -- there should be regulations in place.  And basically, let's do research on these embryos that are going to be discarded anyway.  As you know, there are 100,000 of these embryos sitting around in test tubes right now that more than likely will be discarded.  Why not use them, if they're going to be thrown away anyway?

ROBERTSON:  Well, it's not a bad argument.  I mean, I can't find but so much fault with it myself.  But I'm worried about the whole concept.  This is the argument of utilitarianism.  OK.  The greater good is to keep Connie Mack or his relatives from having cancer or somebody else's relatives from having Parkinson's, somebody else from having diabetes, et cetera.  And my good is better than the good of that little embryo.

So yes, these -- what do they call them, blastocytes or whatever, that are in the test tubes, they say they'll be thrown out anyhow.  That's one of the problems I have.  But when you start this, then where do you go to human cloning?  And you get the utilitarian the argument, "Well, let's do this.  And yes, we can have a farm now of the brave new world"...

ZAHN:  Right, but...

ROBERTSON:  ... you know, of our clones."

ZAHN:  ... let me ask you this.  Do you think it should be illegal for parents to discard unused embryos?

ROBERTSON:  There's no way such a law would ever pass.  But as I say, I grappled with it a couple of decades ago with those who were the pioneers in that type of research.  And they just were wonderful people who only wanted to help couples that were infertile.  That was the whole concept.

But I said, "You are opening, in a sense, Pandora's box on this one."  And now we're doing something else with them.  And before long, we will have moved the boundary marker down the line.  It's a slippery slope.  That's my concern about it.

But I certainly know that on -- this argument -- guys like Tommy Thompson, who's a wonderful person, he's coming down in favor of the research.  Others on the pro-life are saying, "No way."  So I -- there are good people on both sides off the argument.

ZAHN:  Got one last question for you, and I need a quick answer to this, or my producer is going to have my head.  You have Charles Schumer out there basically saying, due to the closeness of the election, that we should demand moderate judicial nominees.  When it comes to the next battle in the Supreme Court, what do you think are legitimate questions for legislators to ask?  Should there be litmus tests?

ROBERTSON:  Listen, Schumer's comment, in my opinion, is absolutely outrageous.  The judicial nominees for the last, I don't know -- what I can remember, the last 30 or 40 years, have always resisted questions that said, basically, "How will you rule on specific cases?"  They say, "There's no way we're going to give up our judicial independence and politicize this thing."  What Schumer is trying to do is to make the Supreme Court a political football.  But you know...

ZAHN:  It always has been, though, Reverend.

ROBERTSON:  Yeah, but -- but the Republicans approved Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a general counsel of the ACLU.  She was so far to the left, it hurt!  But Orrin Hatch and his guys let her go through without going into her ideological persuasion.  It was like, "Is she honest?  Is she intelligent?" and that kind of thing, but not "What does she basically believe?"

ZAHN:  All right.  Well, we have to leave it there.  And thanks to your brevity, I think I may come back and hold this job again tomorrow!

ROBERTSON:  Let's do it!  Come on!

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