In the past, Newt Gingrich has been for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, according to quotes that Ramesh Ponnuru unearthed today on The Corner.

In 2001, during the same time that President Bush was being pushed to federally fund ESC, Newt cut pro-lifers off at the knees and called for federal funding.

Newt said:

My hope is that [President Bush] will draw a sharp distinction between research on fetuses, which I think would be abhorrent and anti-human, and research on cells that are in fertility clinics that have never been in anyone’s body, in terms of being — becoming a person, and which, frankly, are currently unregulated and will disappear. And I think that’s a different kind of question. These are not prehuman cells in the sense they’re going to be implanted. . . . I have a 100 percent pro-life voting record, but I’ve always drawn a distinction at implantation. And I think there’s a real difference in the two kinds of cells. I notice that former senator Connie Mack, who is himself is a Catholic, takes the same position. And I think people who’ve looked at this issue can honorably disagree. But for many of us, there’s a very, very real distinction between doing something with an unborn child, a fetus that is implanted, and doing something with cells in a fertility clinic that are otherwise going to be destroyed.

I’ve also never understood the obsession with implantation. And what the heck is “pre-human” anyway?

And there’s absolutely no logical reason to differentiate between embryos in wombs and embryos in refrigerators. Does our purpose for them change who they are? It just makes no sense, except if you’re running for office and you understand that being against any kind of stem cell research that can perform untold miracles (untold because there’s no evidence yet of any significant advancements from ESC) is ruinous to your political advancement.

But recently, Newt seems to possibly be changing his tune or maybe just playing a game of emphasizing different aspects of his position. Ponnuru writes:

More recently, Gingrich has had, at the very least, a different rhetorical emphasis. He recently said that he was against “killing children” for stem-cell research and that adult stem cells were just as promising as embryonic stem cells. But that leaves several questions unanswered. Does he still favor federal funding of stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos obtained from fertility clinics? Does he still believe these embryos are “prehuman”? Does he still believe that the right to life depends on implantation? And if he now thinks he was mistaken in the past, when and how did he come to this realization?

It’s quite possible that Newt’s hedging this position during the primary process. Or it could be something real and wonderful. It could be that Newt’s conversion to Catholicism explains a true conversion on this issue.

I’d be elated if Newt’s conversion to Catholicism played a role in changing his mind on the question of whether human life can be used for spare parts for others.

I think this is something that he needs to be pressed on. I’d love to hear the answer. For me, it would tell me a lot about the man.