LUTZ, Fla. — As former House speaker Newt Gingrich courts evangelical voters in advance of Tuesday’s Florida primary, he is drawing an increasingly hard line against the use of embryonic stem-cell research — a position that contrasts not only with that of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but also with statements that Gingrich himself has made on the subject in the past.
Speaking at a Baptist church in Winter Park on Saturday, the former speaker received a standing ovation when he declared that embryonic stem-cell research amounts to “the use of science to desensitize society over the killing of babies.”
And in a news conference Sunday, he said he would ban all embryonic stem-cell research, including that done on discarded embryos created by in vitro fertilization.
Gingrich added that he would also create a commission to study the ethics of in vitro fertilization, which has involved the creation of hundreds of thousands of excess embryos stored or discarded by fertility clinics.
“I believe life begins at conception, and the question I was raising was what happens to embryos in fertility clinics, and I would favor a commission to look seriously at the ethics of how we manage fertility clinics,” Gingrich said at a news conference outside another Baptist church here. “If you have in vitro fertilization, you are creating life; therefore, we should look seriously at what the rules should be for clinics that are doing that, because they are creating life.”
Scientists say embryonic stem cells are valuable in research because they can develop into any type of cell in the body. They are thought to hold the promise to treat or cure a variety of illnesses and injuries. However, social conservatives oppose the practice, because it destroys days-old human embryos.
In 2001, when then-President George W. Bush was considering new guidelines for federal funding of stem-cell research, Gingrich had indicated in at least two interviews on Fox News that he would support using government money for research on embryos in fertility clinics that would otherwise be discarded.
“For many of us, there’s a very, very real distinction between doing something with an unborn child, a fetus that is implanted, and doing something with cells in a fertility clinic that are otherwise going to be destroyed,” Gingrich said in one of the interviews, on July 10, 2001.
In the other, 10 days later, he added: “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.”
Bush allowed federal funds to be spent only on 21 stem-cell lines that existed before his August 2001 decision. President Obama lifted that restriction in 2009.
Romney opposes federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research but would not ban the use of stem-cell research on excess embryos in fertility clinics.