UPDATE 12/5/11: The Gingrich Campaign responded. I’m not entirely sold on the response. Check it out.
News today that presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich believes that life begins at implantation does not come as a great surprise. Other pro-life denizens of Capitol Hill, such as Senators Connie Mack and Orin Hatch have also stated that the embryo is not human until it’s in the womb.
Having recently covered this topic on when a human life begins, I’d like to probe deeper into the thoughts of Mr. Gingrich and extend to him an invitation to a cordial dialogue on this issue.
A telling remark made by Mr. Gingrich sheds light on whence this issue arises:
“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,” he added. “Because otherwise you’re going to open up an extraordinary range of very difficult questions.”
That last line is the key. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Speaker is guilty of the same error as our pro-choice opponents. He is defining away the human identity and status of the embryo in order to avoid wrestling with difficult questions of responsibility toward members of our species in their earliest and most vulnerable stage of existence.
Yes, by acknowledging the human identity and status of the pre-implantation embryo we find ourselves immersed in a world of searing questions that directly challenge our infatuation with the unchecked exercise of raw political power, of personal predilection without accountability.
We call into question the use of hormonal birth control measures, which carry the risk of preventing implantation.
We call into question the use of chemical abortifacients such as Ella that are marketed as contraceptives precisely because of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s change of the terms conception and pregnancy to be synonymous with implantation.
We call into question the use of IUD’s, which prevent implantation.
We call into question the tearing apart of embryonic humans for medical experimentation.
We call into question the inhumanity of freezing hundreds of thousands of embryonic humans in liquid nitrogen, treating them as property and not as persons.
One of the many impressive qualities of Mr. Gingrich is that he brings his Ph.D. in history to the table when he debates and puts forth a vision of this nation’s future. It is specifically to the latter point made that he must turn his attention, that of treating pre-implantation embryonic humans as mere property (especially to avoid the difficult questions that acknowledging their humanity presents).
We have been down this road before.
Because our Founders failed to root out slavery from the outset, the nation was riven for over eighty years by the Faustian bargain made in the beginning. The malevolence came to its full-flower with the Dred Scott decision, which entirely stripped African Americans of their personhood identity. What to do with freed slaves was a burning issue in its day. How would they, or could they integrate into the broader society as free persons?
We suffered that evil as a people for as long as that evil was sufferable. In the end, the civil war that everyone feared came anyway, and it laid waste the nation, North and South, with over 600,000 men dead, and millions grievously wounded.
The same is happening today, with the exception that the civil war we are in has been, with rare exception, a bloodless war. However, it has poisoned our body politic, and brought this nation to its knees politically. The one who would be President of the United States cannot seek refuge from the political storm by engaging in deft verbal engineering. It didn’t work with slavery and personhood, and it won’t work here either.
Mr. Gingrich has given voice to a very consequential idea, that a broad spectrum of difficult questions might have to be answered if we deal in the truth of science, and in the truth of human anthropology witnessed to, not only by the Declaration of Independence, but by his newly-adopted Catholic faith. It will mean dealing with the rampant narcissism and hedonism that have swamped the nation he would lead.
So consequential is this idea, that it has profound implications for conscience protections for healthcare professionals as well as the rights of the Catholic Church and its related agencies to refuse mandatory coverage of contraception, most of which is abortifacient in nature, though not under Mr. Gingrich’s nomenclatural accommodation.
It would mean declaring that sex and reproduction have consequences, and that embryonic human beings have moral claims on us as individuals, and as a nation. Such moral claims would mean people reassessing their recreational use of sex, and their utilitarian use of in vitro fertilization.
These are serious problems in the life of this nation, and as the Speaker knows all too well from our experience of slavery, we won’t solve them by attempting to define the victims away.