Abortion – Where is Fred Thompson? Where Should Conservatives be?
By: Warner Todd Huston
Probable Presidential candidate Fred Thompson has recently been caught up in an imbroglio on abortion at the very start of his nascent run for the White House. He has been “caught” working as a lobbyist for a pro-abortion group and, when running for the Senate and while a newly minted Senator, Thompson filled out a questionnaire or two that could lead one to imagine he isn’t staunchly against the procedure. In this piece, I would like to address Thompson’s voting record and positions, show that they are consistent from the beginning, and juxtapose them with those for which a real Conservative, Federalist should advocate.
Thompson’s Political Record – 1994 to current
When he first began to run for the Senate, Thompson gave an interview for the newsletter of the Tennessee Republican Liberty Caucus in which he said of his views on abortion, “(The Federal) Government should stay out of it. No public financing. The women must make the ultimate decision. Government should treat its citizens as adults capable of making moral decisions on their own.”
This was in response to some Tennessee critics of his who claimed he was pro-choice on abortion but it would seem more to be a libertarian, Federalist view point, than a strictly pro-abortion view.
In 1994, Thompson filled out a survey for Project Vote Smart about his views of abortion. He placed his mark next to the box that said: “Abortions should be legal in all circumstances as long as the procedure is completed within the first trimester of the pregnancy.”
Thompsonâ€™s views show, however, that he thinks many restrictions should be placed on the procedure as opposed to being just free and easy to get. On the questionnaire he was for the following restrictions:
- Abortions should be legal in all circumstances as long as the procedure is completed within the first trimester of the pregnancy.
- A woman under the age of 18 should be required to notify a parent or guardian before having an abortion.
- States should be allowed to impose mandatory waiting periods before abortions are performed.
- Congress should eliminate abortion services from any federally funded health care plan.
- States should be allowed to legislate waiting periods
- Congress should eliminate federal funding for clinics and medical facilities that provide abortion services.
- Congress should leave legislation on this issue to the states.
In a 1996 Christian Coalition survey, Thompson checked the box next to “opposed” to an amendment to the U.S. Constitution “protecting the sanctity of human life.” But, he clarified with a handwritten note that said: “I do not believe abortion should be criminalized. This battle will be won in the hearts and souls of the American people.”
While a sitting Senator, however, his voting record is consistently anti-abortion.
Some of his votes in Congress and statements since are as follows:
- Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad science. (Jun 2007)
- Appoint strict constructionist judges. (Jun 2007)
- Has never been pro-choice despite 1994 news reports. (Jun 2007)
- Voted YES on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions. (Jun 2000)
- Voted YES on banning partial birth abortions. (Oct 1999)
- Voted YES on banning human cloning. (Feb 1998)
( Some links to Thompson’s full voting record while a U.S. Senator)
There are several issue advocacy groups that rate politicians in Washington. Here are Thompson’s scores from some of those organizations:
NARAL Pro-Choice America (Pro-abortion group)= 0%
Planned Parenthood (Pro-abortion)= 0%
National Right to Life Committee (anti-abortion)= 100%
American Conservative Union (2001)= 84%
Christian Coalition (2002)= 77%
Eagle Forum (2002)= 75%
The Lobbying Charge – Pre 1994
In 1991, Fred Thompson was an “of counsel” member of the Arent Fox law firm in Washington D.C. He was used as a “draw” for clients, but was not a full member of the firm. While there he was asked to consult on cases and issues for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn., a client of Arent Fox.
A charge was made by the L.A.Times that Thompson lobbied John Sununu, White House chief of staff for president H. W. Bush, to ease abortion restrictions. This appears to be a false charge as Sununu denies it ever occurred and no records can be found that Thompson ever did, indeed, do any such lobbying of Sununu.
However, there do seem to be records that Thompson consulted for up to 20 hours in phone conferences for the firm on the abortion group’s cases. Thompson maintains that he does not recall doing this work.
It must be remembered, however, that this lobbying, if it did occur, happened BEFORE he became a Senator and his voting record in Congress is solidly anti-abortion. There is no reason to believe that some consulting work he did as a lawyer previous to his election as a Senator will have any bearing on his probable stance on the issue into the future.
Summing up Thompson’s Record on Abortion
To sum up Thompson’s public position on abortion, then, we see a man who has been consistently against any Federal funding or support for abortion. But we do see a man who stands for control of abortion to be in the venue of the various State legislatures — and consequently in the hands of the people. He is against Roe v. Wade as bad law and stood against abortion paid for or supported by the medical branches of the armed forces.
His is solidly a Federalist’s position. The Federal government has no right, under such a philosophy, to involve itself in any way with the abortion issue, leaving it to be hashed out by the people of the various states. If Massachusetts wants to make abortion legal, then the people of that state should send representatives to the State’s legislature who will support abortion in Massachusetts. If Kansas, on the other hand, wants to make it illegal in all cases, then Kansans have the right to expect their representatives to pass laws making it illegal.
Furthermore, the Federal government should have no right to descend from Washington (or from the Supreme Court for that matter) and tell Kansas that they cannot outlaw abortion, nor should they interfere with the laws on abortion in Massachusetts.
In light of this record, his questionnaire note against a right to life amendment to the Constitution is completely consistent with his principles, and should not seem contradictory. After all, if he firmly believes that the issue of abortion should be left to the State legislatures to decide on a per state basis, then an amendment to the Federal Constitution would not be a proper thing for him to support. If there were to be a Constitutional amendment essentially making abortion illegal, which a right to life amendment would do, then the whole idea of allowing the states to decide the issue would be moot. To expect the states to adjudicate the abortion issue per the desires of their citizens would naturally preclude any Federal mandate on the issue, either pro or con. The Constitution must remain neutral to be consistent with Thompson’s Federalist philosophy.
There must be no Federal meddling. From here one must realize that Thompson’s position, then, is one that would be smiled upon by nearly every Founding Father. To wit, as Thomas Jefferson once wrote: â€œWhen all governmentâ€¦ shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.â€
It should also be pointed out that, if Thompson is more anti-abortion now than he was in the early 1990â€™s, it has been a steady progression of his views since then with little by way of inconsistency. After all, the last time he made any statements that can be considered even a tiny bit pro-abortion was nearly 15 years ago. Unlike other candidates out there who just changed their position over just the last year or so — and itâ€™s a 180 degree flip at that — Thompsonâ€™s record shows that any change was a many years progression of views. Reagan, of course, also took many years to go from New Dealer Democrat to hero of the Conservative cause, so Thompson is still in good company.
The Conservative Abortion Position
Abortion is one of the most sensitive and emotional issues of the day and it is being fought on the national stage. Thompson’s philosophical position, in this atmosphere, might seem to be the coward’s way out. It is not. It is the original position observed by every American previous to the disastrous Roe v. Wade decision when an activist Supreme Court elevated abortion from a per state basis to a nationally mandated ruling.
One of the Founderâ€™s chief ideas about the States was that they would be laboratories for ideas and that each state would be a place where, within reason, various experiments in government can be tried. Also that they would be better suited to serve their citizens than the National government. Federal oversight eliminates that concept thoroughly because it forces a single, overarching ruling for whatever subject is being contemplated.
Abortion fits into that category. Without question, the various states should be allowed to make their own determinations and rulings on this issue. This excludes a Federal ruling other than that of not having an enforceable, universal opinion.
Of course, the big problem is that Roe v. Wade is, indeed, a national ruling created out of whole cloth by the U.S. Supreme Court forcing the various states to heed that decision. It is one that should be vacated and all efforts of the Conservative movement should properly be in that direction; the repeal of Roe v. Wade.
Unfortunately, the enemy position, that of abortion on demand for all in every state, is not interested in the proper Federal role on the issue. For them it is an all or nothing proposition. They are hide bound that it will be a Federal issue.
In this case, anti-abortion advocates can be excused for also wanting to make their take on the issue a Federal one but that must be avoided. There is no reason, of course, that a fight for a pro-life position cannot be fought as a national issue, but, making a Constitutional amendment is not the right way to go. Fighting for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade should be the goal, not a permanent change to the Constitution itself.
Properly understood, life is already protected by the Declaration of Independence, in any case.
So, it is my contention that Fred Thompson has the purest Conservative position on this issue. It should be an issue dealt with in the State legislatures and the Federal government should have no role whatever. Thompson, while a U.S. Senator, was in a Federal office, so his point of view whereby the Federal government had nothing to do with abortion was the correct one. His personal view on abortion did not matter at all, really, because his role as a Federal lawmaker should properly exclude his meddling with the issue.
Additionally, if he is running for president — especially under the Conservative banner — he should not change the position he had as a Senator at all. As president, he could certainly announce his personal opinion against abortion, but his only activism should be to repeal Roe v. Wade and stop Federal support for abortion and usher the issue back into the venue of the State legislatures. And what could be a more conservative position than one advocating for less Federal involvement in our lives?
But, what ever else, it cannot be said Fred Thompson is pro-abortion, even while his position is one of a technical nature instead of that of an activistâ€™s, as much as it is one in strict accordance with Federalist principle. In the end, his position is the proper one for a Federal official to hold. And it is one we should be holding every Federal official to whether they be Democrat, Republican or otherwise