The XX Factor

Gingrich’s Ill-Advised Position on Stem Cell Research

New Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich speaks in Jacksonville, Fla.

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images.

Faced with dimming prospects of stealing the nomination from Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich is trying to shore up his Catholic bona fides and attract Christian right voters by going on the warpath against stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization. This move should be seen as an invitation to journalists to ask him why, if he’s so Catholic, he doesn’t return to the woman that, under Catholic dogma, is his first and therefore only real wife. Unfortunately, I doubt very much that anyone has the guts to do that, so we’re left with yet another nauseating show of a man whose shamelessness makes Donald Trump jealous preening like he’s some kind of moral authority on anything.

At least Gingrich is addressing something that has always made me a little bonkers about the whole ridiculous stem cell debate. The problem is that restrictions on stem cell research are a purely symbolic move by anti-choice activists, made to shore up their shaky claims that they’re interested in “life” instead of simply oppressing women. The reason that it’s obvious that it’s simply symbolics is the the embryos that would otherwise be used for stem cell research—ones that were created for possible IVF implantation but never used—are instead just thrown in the trash. But the anti-choice movement mostly ignores IVF in their activism, if not in the literature, because they know it’s hard to gin up outrage at married women trying to bear children, as opposed to dirty sluts trying to avoid marriage who haunt the dreams of those who support abortion restrictions. Gingrich, with his usual tin ear for moderating political concerns, doesn’t care about all that, and has decided to roll up attacks on IVF alongside his attacks on stem cell research, basically calling for an end to both. About 1 percent of annual births in the U.S. are IVF-conceived.

Gingrich should slow his roll on the attacks on stem cell research, however. Recent news suggests that stem cells could be used in the future to fix erectile dysfunction. The hope is that the treatments could address a form of ED that Viagra can’t do much for, the kind caused by Peyronie’s disease, which is a condition where (guys, you may want to brace yourself before reading this) the penis develops thick scar tissue that can make erections painful or impossible. If this treatment proves workable, prepare for the sound of a million “life begins at conception” bumper stickers being scraped off cars in unison. Peyronie’s is a lot more common as men age, and unfortunately can’t be addressed by opening up a Tiffany’s account for wife No. 4. Something to consider before committing to a hard-line stance opposing stem cell research.