Fred Thompson on Abortion

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There seems to be controversy among conservatives as to whether former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) is conservative enough on abortion for them to support his potential candidacy for president. The controversy isn't over whether some agreed-upon position is conservative enough, however. There doesn't seem to be much agreement on what the former senator's views even are.  DaveG at Race 4 2008 has an excellent presentation of what we can know from what the senator has said.

It turns out that he is pro-choice but moderately so. DaveG misdescribes the position as moderately pro-life, but that's inaccurate. The pro-life position is that abortion is generally wrong, with perhaps some very rare exceptions like rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother (on which I have some pointed thoughts here). The pro-choice view, on the other hand, considers abortion to be ok in a significant number of circumstances, even if it's thoroughly immoral in others. Thompson's view is like the view of former Governor Bill Weld of Massachusetts and former Senator George Allen of Virginia. He thinks first-trimester abortions are perfectly fine, and anything after that is wrong. He thus takes the view Roe v. Wade once took, one that the Supreme Court significantly expanded in later cases. I find it extremely hard to count that view as pro-life in the sense that the vast majority of pro-lifers consider themselves pro-life.

It's easy to be confused on this, since Thompson is a judicial conservative who thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided on the merits of the case. He probably doesn't think the Constitution guarantees a right to abortion at all. He has indicated that he would be happy to see the decision reversed and turned it over to the states. But that's not because he agrees with pro-lifers on the policy issue. The policy he would want states to take is to allow abortion in the first trimester. That is a pro-choice view, even if it's not as far along the pro-choice spectrum as, say, Rudy Giuliani's position. If it's not a view that he'd want to apply on the federal level, this will make pro-life voters feel a little better about him, and I'd like to verify that this is indeed his view on where abortion policy should be decided. It will not, however, be enough to count him as pro-life in every practical way that a president can be, since he may well think it's ok to use federal money to fund stem-cell research. He might think that issue can indeed be settled at the federal level, since it involves federal money.

So it's true that someone who is moderately pro-choice in the way that Thompson is would end up agreeing with pro-lifers on most abortion-related legislation that comes before the Senate, at least most legislation that came before the Senate in the days before embryonic stem-cell research (where Thompson will indeed disagree very strongly with someone who is fully pro-life, as Mitt Romney now is). It's possible that on most cases related to abortion Thompson would make pro-lifers pretty happy as a moderately pro-choice president. But he would not make pro-lifers as happy as Mitt Romney would. If he's going to take any votes away from leading candidates in this race, it's not likely to include many from Romney once it's clear where the two candidates stand. It's more likely that he'll take votes away from Rudy Giuliani, who is far less moderate in his pro-choice views, even if his judicial conservatism and "leave it for the states" view on abortion will at least give pro-lifers something to be happy about. But there's a clear hierarchy among these three candidates in terms of who is going to be more attractive to pro-life voters on the issue of abortion. Thompson is closer to what pro-life voters want than Giuliani is, but he's not as close as Romney is.

17 Comments

Thank you for scraping below the surface and offering insights into the subtleties of Fred Thompson's views on issues of life.

This information will be most helpful in making my choice for president an informed one.

I wouldn't be so quick to characterize Mitt Romney as pro-life.

There is a great overview of romney's views (all sourced) in this article:

THE MITT ROMNEY DECEPTION

http://massresistance.org/docs/marriage/romney/record/


(P.S. Why don't you consider Ron Paul's candidacy?
He is a much better candidate all around.)


T. Hale, I've addressed the complete hack job you've linked to in a previous post. Some of it is outright manipulation of the facts, i.e. lies. Some of it is simply misleading information that I can see might give the wrong impression to those who don't bother to put it into context. Read my previous post, and if you still have concerns take them up there. This post is not about Mitt Romney. It's about Fred Thompson. I think I've dealt extensively enough with the canard about Romney flip-flopping in that previous post, and this comment thread is not going to turn into a rehashing of all that.

As for Ron Paul, I think I agree with him a good deal less than either Romney or Thompson. There are several other candidates in the race who are better than he is in terms of views who would stand a much better chance of winning than Paul.

Fred Thompson did an interview with our Newsletter -- Republican Liberty (official Newsletter of the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus), in July 1994 where he clearly stated he is Pro-Choice.

I have a copy of the Newsletter in my possession.

Thompson knew we were a libertarian Republican organization, and that most of our members were Pro-Choice Republicans.

He also had two top RLC members, Andrew Murhphy and Michael McCloskey from Tennessee working in his Campaign. Both were "socially tolerant" GOPers. McCloskey in particular, was quite an ardent anti-Religious Right/Hardcore Pro-Choice Republican, and a member of Ann Stone's Republicans for Choice.

I like Fred Thompson. And if he runs I may indeed support him. He is moderately libertarian-conservative. But I'm amazed that so many Conservatives think he is Pro-Choice.

We libertarian Republicans have always viewed him as a solid Pro-Choice/Socially Tolerant Republican, certainly not of the Religious Right wing of the Party.

Eric Dondero, Founder & Fmr. National Chairman
Republican Liberty Caucus

Fmr. Publisher/Editor of Republican Liberty

Fmr. Senior Aide, US Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX)

Current CEO of MainstreamLibertarian.com


But I'm amazed that so many Conservatives think he is Pro-Choice.

Did you mean pro-life?

Not so fast on Ron Paul. Take a look at his voting record. He votes the pro-life position a little over half the time. His reasoning is that federalism is more important. I have to disagree with that rather emphatically, since the purpose of any government structure is to protect rights, of which the paramount is the right to life. The Declaration of Independence specifically says that if government fails to protect those rights, it is our duty to alter or abolish it. Thus, if federalism doesn't allow someone to support the right to life first and foremost, then it is inimical to rights, and the way Paul votes, he fails to recognize that the abortion question HAS been federalized, and that's where we have to deal with it. Simply refusing to support the right to life of the babies (and the right of mothers to be free of medical assault) because it's in the wrong court is not a pro-life position.

As far as Romney is concerned, watch him closely. I don't think his claim to be pro-life is sincere. Remember, he said he switched because of cloning. Well, embryonic stem cell research is very close to the issue of cloning, and yet Romney thinks experimenting on already-existing embryos is acceptable. I am suspicious of his claim to conversion because if he really meant it, he wouldn't support ESCR in any form.

Romney is a Mormon. If either view was insincere, it's much more likely to have been his pro-choice stance when he ran for senator and governor. Since his language at the time was very clearly that of not tampering with the law as it stood at the time, there's very little indication that his pro-choice views were anything more than a willingness to focus on other issues in a state where he'd be able to do very little toward what his moral views would prefer. Then the cloning issue hit, and he realized pro-choice views had taken things too far even for that, and he decided to favor his moral views in the law in ways he'd been reluctant to do beforehand. That strikes me as a much more plausible view that the possibility that someone who is morally pro-life but legally pro-choice is going to pretend to be legally pro-life to get Republican votes.

I'm curious why you think someone who is genuinely pro-life wouldn't support ESCR in any form. Unless I'm wrong about what ESCR is and what ESCR activities he supports, I'm actually of the view that anyone who opposes it absolutely isn't really as consistently pro-life as someone who is willing to use the stem cells from embryos who are going to be legally killed in a way that there's nothing we can do about it. For the same reason that it's not pro-life to refuse to use body parts from organ donors who are dying, it's difficult for me to understand the resistance to using stem cells from embryos that are being killed no matter what we do.

Because those embryos exist and are dying from a procedure that is morally reprehensible. The analogy is that if all the Jews are going to be killed by the Nazis and you are a scientist in Germany, you might as well do experiments on them anyways, right?

The problem arises when, let's say, you develop some amazing cure for Parkinson's Disease, and you say, "Here, we can save tons of people!" But then your critics will say, "And it's all thanks to legal abortion/mass storage of embryos for in vitro fertilization."

The point is, the practice that is creating those embryos is evil, and you undermine your position with the pragmatic stance of "we might as well use what's there."

No, the analogy is that if the Nazis are going to experiment on them anyway, then it's immoral to throw out the results of the experiments. It's that if people are going to die anyway, we might as well rescue some of their organs for use among those who might otherwise also die. We do that all the time, and no one ever complains about it.

Your second argument about developing a cure and then having to suffer people thanking abortion and such is a consequence-based argument, which is what I think you were criticizing me for using. If we're dealing with consequence-based arguments, I think mine is the more important consequence. Having the people actually saved and having social liberals claiming it's because of killing embryos still means the people were saved. Not doing it and not allowing them to take credit for it means the people aren't saved. Who gets the credit is much less significant in terms of the mere value of consequences. Sure, it's an unfortunate consequence, but the other consequence is by far the more important of the two, since it's consequences you're limiting yourself to.

I think I will now note that this is the first time I've ever heard a pro-lifer say that creating life is evil. Sometimes people do evil things that result in life being created (e.g. rape), but is it the creating of life that's evil?

Regarding Ron Paul, abortion, and the Constitution...

Actually, it is NOT the federal government's purpose to protect our life, liberty, and property. The federal govt's job is much narrower than that, and is spelled out clearly in Article 1, Sec 8, for anyone who can read. If you insist on giving the feds more powers than those granted by the Constitution, you promote lawlessness and open up to the Congress and Executive a boundless field of power, no longer subject to definition.

The Bill of Rights doesn't say, "Congress shall make laws protecting our freedom of speech" (for example.) No, rather it's a negative, "Congress shall make no law..." Congress is prohibited from infringing on our rights. The Constitution should be viewed as a restrictive document, defining and restraining federal power.

The only crimes Congress has a right to punish are piracy, counterfeiting, and treason. Murder, jaywalking, rape, embezzling do not fall under federal jurisdiction, therefore may not be punished by the feds. Abortion is murder. But even if abortion were "healthcare" it would still be without federal jurisdiction, as healthcare is not listed among the enumerated powers.

To insist that the feds must prosecute abortionists is to trash the whole Constitution in letter and spirit. If we amend the Constitution to prohibit abortion (in order to restrain the out of control courts) then we are also putting the nail in the coffin of federalism, and altering the spirit of the Constitution.

Ron Paul is the most principled and consistent opponent of abortion in DC today! He is principled rather than pragmatic; ends do not justify means.

Alan,

I'll get to posting on this shortly, but I'm planning to write several posts that will be relevant to your argument. The main issue is that you seem to be assuming some absolute moral principles such as that it's never ok to go against a law or a constitution no matter what. Once that's seen as false, the door opens to having good moral reasons for not going along with something simply because it's the law, and my view on Ron Paul's views is that his insistence on the kind of extremism he's advocating is exactly the kind of absolutism that would be not worth insisting on. It will take me a few days to get it posted, but it will be appearing later this week probably.

One more thing on Ron Paul. Rep. Paul and fellow fringe candidate Dennis Kucinich were the only two members of the U.S. House to vote no on a resolution that called the U.N. to charge Iran with violating a 1948 resolution against genocide in its repeated threats on Israel.

Guys this was what Fred said may of this year:

I am pro-life. I have 100 percent voting record on the pro-life issues that come there. I must say -- I've told people this before -- intellectually, and politically, and from a policy standpoint, I've always voted that way ever since I've been in the Senate and felt that way."

[Transcript of interview with Sean Hannity, FOX Hannity and Co, Fox News, May, 4 2007.]

Michael, yes, that's what he says. But the trick is to make it fit with what he's said and done in the past, and that's what I've argued can't be done. It's one thing to switch views and give reasons for it. It's quite another to appear to switch views, deny you've changed your view in any way, but give no explanation for why there's an appearance of a view change.

Visit, please, our Web site (TheAmericanView.com) and hear our shows on Fred Thompson who has said that JUST BECAUSE A NOMINEE TO BE SURGEON GENERAL ACTUALLY PERFORMED ABORTIONS, ACTUALLY MURDERED INNOCENT UNBORN CHILDREN, this should not disquality him for that job! The man is a moral idiot. John Lofton, Editor
JLof@aol.com

John, I don't know the context. Is there a particular surgeon general candidate he has in mind, someone who has performed abortions, or is he just stating a general moral principle? I certainly wouldn't think it should disqualify someone for the job anymore than persecuting Christians in the past should disqualify someone for being an apostle or killing an Egyptian soldier should disqualify someone from being the human medium for presenting God's law to God's people. But I wouldn't think it's conscionable for a pro-lifer to appoint someone who still approves of abortion to the attorney general position. But then it's not clear that Thompson is pro-life, is it?

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