By Sam Baker - 12/14/11 04:51 PM EST
Republican presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich has pledged his support for the controversial anti-abortion movement known as “personhood.”
The advocacy group Personhood USA announced Wednesday that Gingrich, along with Rick Santorum and Michele Bachman, has signed its 2012 pledge. The group is asking all of the Republican candidates to sign on ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Gingrich’s primary rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, hasn’t signed the pledge, and his stance on personhood is muddled. Democrats sought to link Romney to the personhood movement after he said he would “absolutely” support a constitutional amendment saying life begins at conception, but he said later that the issue should be left to the states and that he does not oppose birth control — a position at odds with the movement.
Personhood USA rebuked the comments.
Gingrich and Romney are the leading contenders for the GOP nomination, and abortion could be a critical issue for conservative voters at the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.
The personhood movement has divided abortion-rights opponents. Even staunch conservatives, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, have raised concerns about the approach, saying it could have unintended consequences. Voters in Mississippi defeated a personhood initiative in November, and efforts to get similar measures onto swing-state ballots in 2012 have energized abortion-rights supporters.
Gingrich signed the personhood pledge after previously breaking with the movement’s position.
While traditional abortion-rights opponents argue that life begins as soon as a fertilized egg is implanted, personhood advocates say life begins at the moment of fertilization. Critics say enshrining that definition into law could threaten access to birth control and in vitro fertilization.
The Personhood USA pledge asks candidates to support a “human life amendment” to the Constitution and states 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.”