The National Right to Life Committee endorsed Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson.
This is a big deal. With 3,000 local chapters in 50 states, National Right to Life is the nation's largest antiabortion group; it publishes a monthly newsletter, funds radio and TV broadcasts and organizes local activists. Supporters donated more than $9.7 million in 2005, according to the latest available tax records. The group's political arm spent $4.4 million in the 2004 election cycle to support antiabortion candidates and causes.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about an issue very important in your party’s primary process, and that’s abortion.You can watch the video of this exchange below. The abortion discussion begins at 1:33:
MR. THOMPSON: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: This is the 2004 Republican Party platform, and here it is: “We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution,” “we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions.” Could you run as a candidate on that platform, promising a human life amendment banning all abortions?
MR. THOMPSON: No.
MR. RUSSERT: You would not?
MR. THOMPSON: No. I have always—and that’s been my position the entire time I’ve been in politics. I thought Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. I think this platform originally came out as a response to particularly Roe v. Wade because of that. Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions. I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with. That’s what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and the federal government is, is, is—serves us very, very well. I think that’s true of abortion. I think Roe v. Wade hopefully one day will be overturned, and we can go back to the pre-Roe v. Wade days. But...
MR. RUSSERT: Each state would make their own abortion laws.
MR. THOMPSON: Yeah. But, but, but to, to, to have an amendment compelling—going back even further than pre-Roe v. Wade, to have a constitutional amendment to do that, I do not think would be the way to go.
MR. RUSSERT: I went back—we went back to your papers at the University of Tennessee and read through them. This is what you said back in 1994 as a candidate. Here’s the first one: “I’m not willing to support laws that prohibit early-term abortions. I’m not suddenly upon election as a senator going to know when life begins and where that place ought to be exactly. It comes down to whether you believe life begins at conception. I don’t know in my own mind if that is the case so I don’t feel the law ought to impose that standard on other people.”
MR. THOMPSON: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: So you yourself don’t know when life begins.
MR. THOMPSON: No. I didn’t know then.
MR. RUSSERT: You know now?
MR. THOMPSON: I, I, I—my head has always been the same place. My public position has always been the same. I’ve been 100 percent pro-life in every vote that I’ve ever cast in, in my service to the United States Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, you say that you’re for states having...
MR. THOMPSON: Well, no...
MR. RUSSERT: Let me finish, because this is important. You’re for allowing states to have pro-abortion rights, and you yourself, and I have 10 different statements from you, say that you would not ban abortion, it’s a woman’s right, and you would not ban it in the first trimester.
MR. THOMPSON: No, no. Well, you just said two different things here. You know, it’s a complex issue concerning whether or not you’re going to have a federal law, whether or not you’re going to have a federal constitutional amendment, those kinds of things. Nobody’s proposed a federal law on this. Nobody’s recently proposed a, a federal constitutional amendment. I, I, I had an opportunity to vote on an array of things over eight years, whether it be partial birth abortion, whether it be Mexico City policy, whether it be transporting young girls across state lines to avoid parental notification laws and all that--100 percent pro-life.
But let me finish on my point, and, and, and my legal record is there, and that’s the way I would govern if I was president. I would take those same positions. No federal funding for abortion, no nothing that would in any way encourage abortion. When I saw—and again, all consistent with what I’ve said. I—people ask me hypothetically, you know, OK, it goes back to the states. Somebody comes up with a bill, and they say we’re going to outlaw this, that or the other. And my response was I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors or perhaps their family physician. And that’s what you’re talking about. It’s not a sense of the Senate. You’re talking about potential criminal law. I said those things are going to be ultimately won in the hearts and minds of people. I’m probably a pretty good example of that. Although my, my, my head and my legislative record’s always been the same, when I saw that sonogram of my little now four-year-old, it’s, it’s, it’s changed my heart. It’s changed the way I look at things. I was looking at my child when, when, when I, when I saw that. And I knew that, and I felt that. And that’s the way I feel today. And I think life begins at conception. I always—it was abstract to me before. I was a father earlier when I was very young. I was busy. I went about my way. One of the, one of the maybe few advantages you have by getting a little bit older.
MR. RUSSERT: So while you believe that life begins at conception, the taking of a human life?
MR. THOMPSON: Yes, I, I, I, I do.
MR. RUSSERT: You would allow abortion to be performed in states if chosen by states for people who think otherwise?
MR. THOMPSON: I do not think that you can have a, a, a law that would be effective and that would be the right thing to do, as I say, in terms of potentially—you can’t have a law that cuts off an age group or something like that, which potentially would take young, young girls in extreme situations and say, basically, we’re going to put them in jail to do that. I just don’t think that that’s the right thing to do. It cannot change the way I feel about it morally, but legally and practically, I’ve got to recognize that fact. It is a dilemma that I’m not totally comfortable with, but that’s the best I can do in resolving it in my own mind.
Pro-lifers are split among the Republican presidential contenders with Robertson backing Giuliani and Brownback endorsing McCain.
At RedState, Eric has the inside scoop on the National Right to Life Committee endorsement of Fred.