Washington (CNN) -- A U.S. district judge granted a preliminary injunction Monday to stop federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that he said destroys embryos, ruling it went against the will of Congress.
The ruling by Judge Royce C. Lamberth was a blow to the Obama administration, which last year issued guidelines to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Lamberth's ruling said all embryonic stem cell research involves destroying embryos, which violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment included in federal spending bills.
"The Dickey-Wicker Amendment unambiguously prohibits the use of federal funds for all research in which a human embryo is destroyed," said the ruling by Lamberth, who was nominated to the federal bench by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1987. "It is not limited to prohibit federal funding of only the 'piece of research' in which an embryo is destroyed. Thus, if ESC [embryonic stem cell] research is research in which an embryo is destroyed, the guidelines, by funding ESC research, violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment."
President Barack Obama signed an executive order in March 2009 that repealed a Bush-era policy limiting federal dollars for human stem cell research. Obama's act permitted the National Institutes of Health to conduct and fund studies on embryonic stem cells.
Monday's ruling involved a lawsuit against the National Health Institute filed by researchers opposed to use of embryonic stem cells, a group that seeks adoptive parents for human embryos created through in vitro fertilization, the non-profit Christian Medical Association and others.
The ruling stops the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research while the lawsuit proceeds through the legal system. The government can appeal the injunction, and a Justice Department spokeswoman, Tracy Schmaler, said the decision was being reviewed.
The field of embryonic stem cells has been highly controversial because the research process involves destroying the embryo, typically four or five days old, after removing stem cells. These cells are then blank and can become any cell in the body.
Embryonic stem cell research differs from other kinds of stem cell research, which don't require embryos.
Some scientists believe embryonic stem cells could help treat many diseases and disabilities, because of their potential to develop into many different cell types in the body.
While some advocates praised the executive order as a giant step forward for medical research, conservatives groups objected, contending that the destruction of human embryos ends human life.
Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions -- one of the groups that filed the lawsuit -- said he supported adult stem cell research that doesn't require destroying embryos.
"Frequently people will say why are you opposed to stem cell research and of course are answer is, we're not," Stoddart said. "We're opposed to the destruction of the embryos to get embryo stem cells."
In a statement Monday, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research said it was disappointed by the injunction granted "in response to the latest maneuver by an ideologically driven fringe group."
"We have full confidence that the extensive, deliberative process that shaped federal guidelines now in place will be upheld upon further review," the group's statement said.
CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this story.