(Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is campaigning for votes in Tuesday's Florida primary, said he would ban all embryonic stem cell research and called for a commission to study the ethics of in vitro fertilization.
"I believe life begins at conception," the Republican presidential hopeful stressed Sunday at a news conference outside a Baptist church in Lutz, Fla.
"The question I was raising was what happens to embryos in fertility clinics," Gingrich added, referring to the remarks he made a day earlier at another Baptist church in Winter Park, that embryonic stem-cell research amounts to "the use of science to desensitize society over the killing of babies."
Gingrich's proposal was seen as an attempt to woo evangelical voters and gain an edge over former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, his biggest opponent in Florida.
Gingrich went on to say he was in favor of a commission to "look seriously" at the ethics of how fertility clinics are managed. "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," The Associated Press quoted him as saying outside Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church.
Gingrich, who vocally supported federally funded research about a decade ago, said he was also against the use of leftover embryos for stem cell research.
In vitro fertilization or IVF refers to formation of an embryo outside a woman's body for implant inside the womb. Human embryos can also be used in treatment or cure of illnesses and injuries but they have life, conservatives say.
In 2009, President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research, which were put in place by his predecessor, George W. Bush in 2001.
Romney, who is not against the use of stem cell research on excess embryos in fertility clinics, is leading in polls in Florida. Reuters/Ipsos online poll results released Sunday showed Romney having the support of 42 percent of likely voters while Gingrich's support stood at 30 percent.
"It's clear that Romney's run a much more focused and effective campaign in Florida than Newt," Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said Sunday, according to Reuters. "Newt's playing defense every single day in every way and doesn't seem to be able to make Romney play defense."