WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich clarified his position on personhood Friday when he told ABC News' Jake Tapper that he believes life actually begins at "successful implantation," not fertilization.
"I think the question of being implanted is a very big question," Gingrich said. "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?'"
He said that "when a woman has a fertilized egg and that's been successfully implanted, that now you're dealing with life." Otherwise, Gingrich noted, "you're going to open up an extraordinary range of very difficult questions."
Gingrich's latest remarks on when life begins expand on comments he made during the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Iowa last month, when he said he would support a federal personhood amendment defining life at conception.
Conception, by definition, involves "fertilization or implantation or both," so Gingrich's comments over Thanksgiving don't necessarily conflict with the position he stated Friday. But the national movement led by Personhood USA takes the position that a zygote should be given full legal rights at the moment of fertilization.
"If Newt Gingrich believes that life begins at implantation, he is scientifically incorrect," Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for Personhood USA, told HuffPost on Friday. "Any human embryology textbook confirms that life begins at the moment of fertilization. From that moment, there is a living, growing, developing human being."
If taken literally, a personhood law defining life at fertilization, like the legislation that was recently rejected in Mississippi, could ban certain kinds of birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research in addition to criminalizing abortion. It could also have a host of legal consequences beyond women's reproductive health.
GOP presidential candidates are split on the issue. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said in November that the personhood movement "goes too far" by seeking to prohibit abortion in cases of rape and incest and when the life of the mother is in danger. But Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) co-sponsored the proposed Life At Conception Act in January, which would define life from the moment of fertilization.
Other candidates have been less clear in their views. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said that he is "supportive of efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception," but that the issue should be left up to the states. Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently dodged a question about personhood at a town hall event in Kansas, and Herman Cain said in October that he believes life begins at conception but it's "not the government's role ... to make that decision."
A spokesperson for the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians said that pregnancy is not scientifically established until the fertilized egg is implanted in the lining of the uterus -- which supports Gingrich's position.
But personhood advocates are not persuaded by the doctors.
"The question of personhood is not when life begins -- that is a settled scientific fact," Mason said. "The question is whether we believe that all human beings have human rights."
UPDATE: 4 p.m. -- Michele Bachmann issued the following statement on Friday in response to Newt Gingrich's comment that life begins at implantation:
"Newt Gingrich stated today that life begins at implantation, not at conception. 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.
"While Newt has presumptively declared himself the nominee, I believe the people of Iowa and all Americans will reject any candidate who fails to understand when life begins and that protecting it is the top priority for conservatives. I'll always side with life. I signed the Susan B. Anthony pledge and believe that my word means something. That's why I have fought to protect life from conception until natural death. And as president, I'll defund Planned Parenthood and make sure that not one dime of taxpayer money goes to pay for abortions here in the United States or internationally."
Read the GOP presidential candidates' views on reproductive rights:
Romney's position on abortion and other women's health issues switched from pro-choice to anti-choice during his term as governor from 2003 to 2007, and his record on choice-related issues is mixed. He vetoed a measure that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a prescription to rape victims, but he signed into law a measure to expand family planning services for low-income women and families in Massachusetts. Romney was also one of the few GOP candidates who refused to sign the Susan B. Anthony List's pro-life pledge, because his camp said it could have some "potentially unforeseen consequences." But he believes abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and he said if he were president he would support the reversal of Roe v. Wade. "This is not the time for the Republican Party to put up a candidate who is weak on the pro-life issue or has a history of flip-flopping over it," Bachmann said of Romney at a National Right to Life convention in June. Romney said as president he would defund Planned Parenthood, and then took it even further saying he'd "get rid of that" altogether.
During his 19 years in Congress, Gingrich cast 74 votes on reproductive rights, women's health and family planning issues, and 72 of those were anti-choice. Gingrich voted multiple times to give legal "personhood" status to an embryo and supported the Federal Abortion Ban, which would impose a two-year prison sentence on doctors who perform certain kinds of abortions. He also repeatedly voted to deny military women the right to have abortions at military hospitals, even if they paid for it themselves, and cited "biological problems" as his reason for opposing women's right to join the military. As president, Gingrich has said he would try to defund Planned Parenthood and eliminate the entire Title X program, which provides non-abortion family planning services for millions of low-income women across the country.
Paul has stated he is pro-life, however he's more moderate on abortion than some of the other GOP presidential candidates, particularly Rick Santorum. When pressed, he conceded that if one of his daughters was raped, he would not want her to have the child. Paul weighed in on contraception on "The Tonight Show" in March. As a former OBG-YN, Paul said he's prescribed a lot of contraception. "If people have reservations about abortion, the abortion is the issue, it isn't the birth control pill. It isn't the instrument, he said.
Santorum wants abortion banned in all circumstances, even in cases of rape and incest; is opposed to all family planning programs; and believes that schools should be forbidden to teach students about contraception. As a senator, Santorum voted against funding pregnancy prevention programs for teens and voted for the "family cap" and the "illegitimacy cap," which would have financially penalized low-income women for having children and penalized states for children born out of wedlock. And one of Santorum's priorities as president, he has said, will be to defund Planned Parenthood, which he believes is motivated by racism and eugenics. "I can't imagine any other organization with its roots as poisonous as the roots of Planned Parenthood getting federal funding of any kind," he told reporters in April.