Lawmakers in Australia's most populous state voted Thursday to overturn a ban on the use of cloned human embryos for stem cell research despite strong opposition from the Catholic church.
Controversial new legislation allowing therapeutic cloning was passed in New South Wales by 65 votes to 26. The legislation needs to be approved by the upper house of the state parliament before becoming law.
It will allow researchers to clone human embryos to extract stem cells in the hope of one day finding cures for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cystic fibrosis.
The head of the Catholic church in Australia, Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, caused outrage after warning Catholic lawmakers they faced "consequences" if they voted in favour of the legislation.
Several Catholic members of parliament, led by State Premier Morris Iemma, said they would defy Pell and approve the law in the hope that it could lead to medical breakthroughs.
Pell indicated he was considering refusing holy communion to lawmakers who did not toe the line but stopped short of threatening to excommunicate them.
The archbishop was roundly condemned both within and outside parliament for what lawmakers described as unacceptable interference in politics.