Is Newt Pro-life?

Newt Gingrich caused a stir this week by departing from the orthodox pro-life reservation. In an interview with Jake Tapper, Gingrich said that he believed that life does not begin at conception:

TAPPER: Abortion is a big issue here in Iowa among conservative Republican voters and Rick Santorum has said you are inconsistent. The big argument here is that you have supported in the past embryonic stem cell research and you made a comment about how these fertilized eggs, these embryos are not yet “pre-human” because they have not been implanted. This has upset conservatives in this state who worry you don’t see these fertilized eggs as human life. When do you think human life begins?

GINGRICH: Well, I think the question of being implanted is a very big question. My friends who have ideological positions that sound good don’t then follow through the logic of: ‘So how many additional potential lives are they talking about? What are they going to do as a practical matter to make this real?’ I think that if you take a position when a woman has fertilized egg and that’s been successfully implanted that now you’re dealing with life. because otherwise you’re going to open up an extraordinary range of very difficult questions

TAPPER: So implantation is the moment for you.

GINGRICH: Implantation and successful implantation. In addition I would say that I’ve never been for embryonic stem cell research per se. I have been for, there are a lot of different ways to get embryonic stem cells. I think if you can get embryonic stem cells for example from placental blood if you can get it in ways that do not involve the loss of a life that’s a perfectly legitimate avenue of approach [emphasis added].

Well…not so fast there,  Mr. Speaker!  Newt would say that he’s never been for embryonic stem cell research per se but some would say that’s not an accurate statement, per se.

In 2001 Gingrich said this to Bill O’Reilly:

“Well, I agree with Senator Bill Frist, as the only medical doctor in the Senate and as a world-class heart surgeon. I think that there are ways to have appreciation for life, to recognize the sanctity of life, but nonetheless to look at fertility clinics where there are cells that are sitting there that are not going to be used to create life. They literally today, they’re unregulated, they can be thrown away. And I think the president, I hope the president, will find a way to agree that there ought to be federally funded research.”

In 2006, Gingrich told Discover Magazine that while he was opposed to stem cell research for abortions, he was not against it for unborn embryos in fertility clinics and gave guidelines for federal funding:

“I think the federal government needs to set an example by making sure that when it is the funding source for such research, it is subject to serious ethical guidelines. I am against human cloning research, and I am against research on aborted fetuses. Having said that, I would not seek to ban research on stem cells in fertility clinics.”

At the time Gingrich said this, The Dickey-Wicker Amendment (signed into law by President Clinton) outlawed such federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. In 2009, President Obama lifted the ban through executive fiat and he and Kathleen Sebelius have spent the last two years in court trying to explain why he has the right to ignore the law. But I digress.

The point is that it appears Newt’s position on embryonic stem cell research is more closely aligned to Obama’s than it is to the traditional pro-life position (and that of Newt’s Catholic faith) that believes life begins at conception and should be protected because it is endowed by his Creator with the unalienable right to life.

This is not to posit that Gingrich is a subversive pro-abortion radical hiding in the midst of the Republican party. Indeed, Gingrich had a solid pro-life voting record when he was in Congress, though some of his colleagues have said he is not in favor of outlawing the practice.  And he has supported candidates who actually are pro-abortion radicals. In 1998 he called for tolerance of Republicans who supported the hideous practice of partial birth abortion, vowing to campaign for them:

“It’s the voters of America who have a right — in some places they’re going to pick people who are to my right, some places they’re going to pick people who are to my left and in both cases, if they’re the Republican nominee, I am going to actively campaign for them, because when they get to Congress, whether they are a moderate Republican from the northeast, whether they are a very conservative Republican from the south or west, whatever their background.”

This is all important for a few reasons.

First, this primary has become a game of inches. As the polls inch up and down, sometimes hourly,  taking the liberal position on embryonic stem cell research matters to a lot of very sincere pro-life people.

Second, this is another example of Newt telling people what he thinks they want to hear. Earlier this week I posted a diary about Newt’s climate change debate with John Kerry. In that debate to an audience at NYU, Newt was not the fearsome bulldog we’ve all seen in the debates. He was conciliatory and agreeable. He was slobbering all over John Kerry’s book on the environment and rambling about the problem of “carbon loading” and what government should do about it.  In 2006, when Newt wasn’t running for president, he was thinking it was a good thing to federally fund embryonic stem cell research.  Today, under pressure from conservatives, he said,

“I would say that I’ve never been for embryonic stem cell research per se.”

Per se. Words are funny things, aren’t they? Watch for Gingrich to squirm out of this in the next couple of days. The explanation will start with the words, “What I said was…”

This is Newt being Newt. If we nominate Newt to be our candidate, we will have to apologize to Mitt for calling him a flip-flopper.

A third reason this is significant is that it demonstrates a deficiency in Gingrich’s dedication to a pro-life agenda. While I realize that jobs and the economy are important issues this election and the candidates are spending most of their time and energy on them, we can’t ignore the social issues. We can’t give the candidates a pass and hope for the best.

There are states across the nation that are passing pro-life laws that will surely end up in federal courts and ultimately, the Supreme Court. Whoever is president in 2012  and beyond may have the opportunity to nominate judges who can uphold those laws, putting severe limits on abortion.

Gingrich has vowed to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, but exactly what does he mean by pro-life? He’s also promised to stop taxpayer funding of abortion, defund Planned Parenthood, and stop funding abortion overseas (the Mexico City policy). Still, he’s stopped short of proposing to make abortion illegal through a human life amendment (as Rick Perry has proposed), indicating that he prefers to promote adoption.

This just gives me one more reason to not support Newt. I believe he would be a marginally pro-life president, if elected, but I would not be under any illusions that he would move the ball forward for the pro-life moment and for unborn babies.

UPDATE Monday 12/5:  Gingrich changed his mind on this issue and now says he believes life begins at conception.  The Hill reports that Gingrich has updated his website to reflect the change. Or maybe it’s not a change. Newt says, “I have stated many times throughout the course of my public life I believe that human life begins at conception.” I guess he was just confused last week when he told Jake Tapper something different and in his 2001 interview with O’Reilly and his 2006 interview with Discover Magazine.  Sheesh. That didn’t take long.