“I’m pro-life, I’m pro-life, Tucker, so I mean, I don’t run from that.”
So Congressman Harold Ford Jr. told MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson on Monday.
It’s often been taken as a given that the attractive, smart, affable Ford is pro-life. On Fox News Sunday this past weekend Chris Wallace stated flatly in addressing Ford, “You are pro-life.”
But is Congressman Ford pro-life? His record suggests otherwise.
According to the National Right to Life Committee, Ford’s claim to be pro-life “is radically at odds with Ford’s 10-year voting record in the U.S. House. Overall, Ford has voted against the pro-life side 87 percent of the time.”
Among his most notable votes cast on this front, Ford voted against “Laci and Conner’s Law,” which recognizes an unborn child who is injured or killed in the commission of a federal crime as a child and crime victim. Even though the bill was not explicitly about abortion, abortion groups considered its implications and thought long term — if we give in here, will it hurt us later? They knew it could very well, and so they opposed the bill, despite Conner Peterson. And so did Harold Ford, even though all but one member of the Tennessee congressional delegation voted for it.
In 1997, Ford was the only member of the Tennessee delegation who voted to repeal the longstanding Hyde amendment which prohibits federal funding of abortions; in 2002, he voted against the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect medical providers who don’t want to perform abortions. I’m all for pro-life conversions – and heavens knows its happens the other way with politicians all the time — but Ford ought to explain his record — including on partial-birth abortion. As Douglas Johnson from the NRLC notes:
Mr. Ford now likes to talk about his support for the ban on partial-birth abortions. He actually voted against that bill until 2000. Then he switched. But right up to the time that the bill was finally enacted in 2003, he continued to vote for unsuccessful killer amendments. That is the also the pattern on the other small number of issues on which Ford has tossed a vote to the pro-life side — he first votes for gutting amendments, and only after those amendments fail does he cast a vote in favor of final passage.
A new ad from NRL-PAC that’s hitting Tennessee today may make Ford have to do some work for that pro-life label he claims. Radio listeners will hear the following conversation:
Man: I saw an ad on TV — Bob Corker criticizing Harold Ford, because Ford skipped hundreds of votes in Congress on all sorts of important issues.
Woman: Yeah? Well, I wish that Ford had skipped more votes on one of the issues that’s most important to me — abortion, the right to life. Ford has been in Congress for ten years, and when he wasn’t skipping votes, he voted against the pro-life side — 87 percent of the time! Ford was even the only Tennessee Congressman, of either party, to vote to use our federal income tax dollars to pay for abortion on demand!
Man: But, I heard Ford say he is pro-life!
Woman: Yeah. Give me a break, words are cheap. Ford even voted against the Laci Peterson bill, to make it a homicide to kill an unborn baby during a violent crime. Only one congressman out of eight agreed with Ford on that one! Look, he’s been on the wrong side 87 percent of the time!
Man: Well, this makes my choice a lot easier!
Woman: We vote for Bob Corker! Corker doesn’t just say he’s pro-life — he’ll vote that way, too.
Announcer: On November 7th, vote for life. Vote for Bob Corker for U.S. Senate. Paid for by National Right to Life PAC at nrlpac.org. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. NRLPAC is responsible for the content of this advertising.
An earlier TV ad from the Republican National Committee accused Ford of wanting to “give the abortion pill to schoolchildren.” It was a little gift to Ford because the careless and exaggerated phrasing easily allows him to deny the accusation without explaining his position on abortion. Ford didn’t actually vote to pass out RU-486 to little girls; he just voted to allow RU-486 to be sold in the U.S. As a consequence of his vote, however, it is given to minors.
And although he voted for the Child Custody Protection Act currently being held up in the Senate — legislation that would make it a federal crime for an adult who is not her parent to take a pregnant girl across state lines for an abortion — Congressman Ford voted once again for a failed amendment that would have watered down the bill, allowing clergy, among others, to take a girl across state lines without parental consent. With his record such as it is, one can hardly expect a Senator Ford to pressure his fellow Dems in the Senate to send such a bill on to conference committee and the president.
Given his record, Tennessee voters should not let Ford get away with calling himself “pro-life.” Anyone who buys any Ford explanation of his record should ask Congressman Ford if he plans on being any kind of anti-abortion leader as a United States senator. Northwest a bit, Bob Casey Jr., currently running for Senate against Rick Santorum, the foremost pro-life leader in the Senate, has made clear that he would not make abortion a priority during his tenure in the Senate. And national Democratic-party leaders have more than suggested to their fellow party members that there’s no reason to worry about Casey when it comes to votes for judges, for instance. As we said in an editorial here on NRO Monday, “A senator who votes for laws against abortion but won’t vote for judges who will allow such laws to stand is merely playing games with his constituents.” Unlike in Pennsylvania, where the Democratic candidate for Senate is a vacant slate and empty suit who can claim whatever he pleases (and benefits from sharing the name of his late Democratic father, who served as governor and was ostracized by his party for being ardently pro-life), Tennessee voters have an extensive, publicly available record to question Ford’s “pro-life” claims.
Democrats-for-Life types (Democrats for Life of America currently has Harold Ford Jr.’s photo prominently on their homepage) should insist that Dems pay more than lip service to the issue if they want to claim the pro-life label. Harold Ford should not be let off with easy “I’m pro-life” dismissals of criticism.
With the race neck-in-neck for the Tennessee Senate seat currently occupied by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, forcing some clarity on a key issue like abortion could make all the difference — on Election Day and after.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
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