Three Republican presidential candidates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), signed a vague pledge sponsored by Personhood USA affirming their support for an anti-abortion, "human life" amendment to the Constitution.
Personhood USA, the group behind the controversial Mississippi initiative that gives undeveloped zygotes full legal personhood rights and could outlaw some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization, believes that life begins at the moment of fertilization. Gingrich distanced himself from the personhood movement earlier this month when he declared that life begins at implantation, not fertilization, which is the more mainstream view held by most opponents of abortion rights.
But the pledge does not go into detail about when life begins, or what a "human life" amendment would look like. It simply asks the candidates to proclaim that "every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and is endowed by our Creator with the unalienable right to life."
Personhood USA said the pledge was an opportunity for candidates to clarify their positions on fetal personhood, which would ban abortions even in cases of rape, incest and where the health of the mother is at stake.
“There has been much speculation as to the candidate’s positions this election cycle,” said Personhood USA Legal Analyst Gualberto Garcia Jones. “This is an opportunity for the candidates to demonstrate their conviction as a President who will uphold the right to life of every person no matter their age or the circumstances of their creation.”
Bachmann, who co-sponsored legislation called the Life At Conception Act in January, criticized Gingrich's claim that life begins at implantation, insinuating that he was not a strong enough anti-abortion advocate to win conservatives' votes.
"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," she said in a statement to HuffPost. "I'll always side with life."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has not signed the Personhood USA pledge, which conflicts with his recent statement that personhood amendments should be left to the states.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said on Wednesday that the fact that three candidates had signed the pledge shows that they are "out of touch" on women's health issues.
"As media have reported, these so-called ‘personhood’ initiatives are an extreme government intrusion into the private lives of women and families and could outlaw in vitro fertilization, common forms of birth control, and cancer treatment for pregnant women," she said.