Gingrich: Life Doesn't Begin at Conception Because That Would 'Open Up ... Very Difficult Questions'

Terence P. Jeffrey | December 4, 2011 | 8:36am EST
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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich after speaking at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines, Iowa on Dec. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

( -In an interview with ABC News on Friday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he believes that human life does not begin at conception but at "implantation and successful implantation" because if you say life begins at conception "you're going to open up an extraordinary range of very difficult questions."

Gingrich also said that his "friends" who take "ideological positions" that human life does begin at conception "don't then follow through on the logic of" that postion.

Gingrich's statement was criticized by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who like Gingrich is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, and by commentaries posted on pro-life websites.

Gingrich made his statement in an interview with ABC News's Jake Tapper in West Des Moines, Iowa.

"Abortion is a big issue here in Iowa among conservative Republican voters and Rick Santorum has said you are inconsistent," Tapper told Gingrich. "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 responded: "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," Gingrich continued, "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 quesitons."

Tapper then asked: "So implantation is the moment for you?

"Implantation and successful implantation," said Gingrich.

"In addition," said Gingrich, "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 it in ways that do not involve the loss of a life that's a perfectly legitimate avenue of approach.

"What I reject," Gingrich told Tapper, "is the idea that we're going to take one life for the purpose of doing research for other purposes and I think that crosses a threshold of de-humanizing us that's very, very dangerous."

Wesley J. Smith, who authors a blog about bioethics on the website of First Things, posted an entry on Saturday that was sharply critical of Gingrich's statements to Tapper.

Smith pointed to an embryology textbook he had quoted in his own book, Consumer's Guid to a Brave New World.

"If we want to learn the unvarnished scientific truth about whether an early embryo--wherever situated--is really a form of human life, we need only turn to apolitical medical and embryology textbooks," Smith wrote.

"For example," wrote Smith, "the authors of The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th Ed.) assert: 'Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte is fertilized by a sperm...' The fertilized egg is known as a zygote, which 'is the beginning of a new human being ...' More to the point, the authors write: 'Human development begins at fertilization' with the joining of the egg and sperm, which 'form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized ... cell marks the beginning of each of us a unique individual.'"

Rep. Bachmann put out a statement on Friday, expressing disagreement with what Gingrich had told ABC News.

“Newt Gingrich stated today that life begins at implantation not at conception," said Bachmann. "But those who are truly involved in the life issue know that life begins at conception. Additionally, the former speaker’s description of the life issue as 'practical' is a rejection of the most sacred principle that each and every life has value, a principle recognized by our founders in the Declaration of Independence of the most basic right with which every human is endowed. This along with his inconsistent record on life is just one more indication that Newt is not dedicated to protecting the lives of the unborn and doesn’t share the most basic of conservative principles."

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