TIM RUSSERT: Let me ask you about an issue very important in your party’s primary process, and that’s abortion. This is the 2004 Republican Party platform, and here it is. We say the unborn child is 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 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortion. Could you run as a candidate on that platform promising a human life amendment, banning all abortions?
FRED THOMPSON: No.
RUSSERT: You would not?
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, particularly Roe v. Wade, because of that. Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions. I think people ought to be free, 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 federal government has served 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.
RUSSERT: Each state could make their own abortion laws?
THOMPSON: Yeah. But to have an amendment compelling going back even further than pre Roe v. Wade, a constitutional amendment to do that, I do not think would be the way to go.
TIM RUSSERT: 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 is 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 if my own mind if that is the case, so I don’t feel law ought to impose that standard on other people. So, you yourself don’t know when life begins?
FRED THOMPSON: No. I didn’t know then.
RUSSERT: Do you know now?
THOMPSON: My head has always been in the same place. My public position has always been the same. I’ve been 100% pro-life in every vote I’ve ever cast in service as a United States Senator.
RUSSERT: Your for allowing states to have pro-abortion rights. And you yourself, and I have ten different statements from you, saying that you would not ban abortion, it’s a woman’s right, and you would not ban it in the first trimester.
THOMPSON: You’ve 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 federal constitutional amendment. 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, all that. 100% pro-life. But let me finish on my point, 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 abortions, no nothing that would in any way encourage abortion. When I saw — again, all consistent with what I’ve said. People ask me hypothetically, okay, you know, it goes back to the states. Somebody comes up with a bill and they say we’re going to outlaw this 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 and perhaps their family physician. And that’s what you’re talking about, it’s not the sense of the Senate. Your talking about potential criminal law. I said those things are going to ultimately be won in the hearts and minds of people. I’m probably a pretty good example of that. Although my head and my legislative record’s always been the same, when I saw that sonogram of my little now 4-year-old, it’s changed my heart. It’s changed the way I look at things. I was looking at my child 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 maybe few advantages you have of getting a little bit older.
RUSSERT: So you believe life begins at conception, and that’s taking of a human life?
THOMPSON: Yes, I do.
RUSSERT: You would allow abortion to be performed in states if chosen by states for people who think otherwise.
THOMPSON: I do not think that you can have 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 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.
First off, however compelling you may or may not find Mitt Romney’s
Thompson, on the other hand, sounds like he doesn’t plan to be a forceful leader for life if Roe were overturned and states were making decisions on the matter. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe it’s not fair to judge Thompson based on a long interview hitting many areas. But it’s not the first time I’ve thought he’s given a muddled answer on the topic of abortion.
I believe Fred Thompson is pro-life and I’d like the president of the United States to be opposed to abortion — and be a leader for a culture of life. But I wouldn’t blame pro-lifers who thought, while listening to Thompson, Well, Rudy thinks Roe was wrongly decided, too, doesn’t he? If he’s for no federal funding … how different would he be?