(CNSNews.com) - Citing a pro-life voting record and electability, the nation's largest pro-life organization endorsed Republican Fred Thompson for president Tuesday.
The endorsement by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) comes just weeks after Thompson said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he opposes "criminalizing" abortion and that he does not support the call for a pro-life amendment to the Constitution in the Republican Party platform. Thompson campaign spokesman Darrell Ng told Cybercast News Service that Thompson has since clarified his remarks and does not favor changing the platform.
Thompson has had a 100 percent pro-life voting record during his eight years in the U.S. Senate on issues concerning federal funding to abortion providers, parental notification and partial-birth abortion.
"Since announcing his candidacy in September, Fred Thompson has run second only to pro-abortion candidate Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination in the overwhelming majority of national polls," NRLC President Wanda Franz said Tuesday in announcing the group's endorsement.
"As pro-lifers throughout the nation begin to unite behind his candidacy, he will be well positioned to win the nomination and the presidency," she said.
The endorsement from the pro-life group could offer a boost for the former Tennessee senator and actor, as it comes a week after socially conservative Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain for president, and Christian conservative leader Pat Robertson announced his support for GOP front-runner Giuliani.
"I'm deeply appreciative for the past support by the National Right to Life Committee PAC in my Senate campaigns, and today I am blessed and grateful to have their endorsement for president of the United States," Thompson said in a written statement. He was not present for the endorsement.
"In supporting me, those who have worked tirelessly to defend life are supporting a consistent conservative who has stood with them yesterday, who stands with them today, and will stand with them tomorrow," Thompson continued.
Thompson's past stance on abortion is not spotless, as he has not only questioned the GOP platform language, but also supported an effort at the 1996 Republican National Convention by nominee Bob Dole to include a "tolerance" plank in the platform on abortion.
"We could not endorse Fred Thompson based on our criteria" in a primary or general election, Colleen Parro, executive director of the Republican National Coalition for Life, told Cybercast News Service.
"All I can say is our criteria for endorsement is a candidate who supports a human life amendment to the Constitution and will work for it - someone who will support every issue with respect to life, including embryonic stem cells and end-of-life issues," she added.
The Republican Party platform has included a pro-life plank since 1984 that supports a "human life amendment" and endorses "legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."
Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if he could run on that platform, Thompson said, "No."
He also said, "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 we're talking about. It's not a sense of the Senate. You're talking about potential criminal law."
The "Meet the Press" comments are not a concern for the NRLC.
"No one here can promise a human life amendment," NRLC Executive Director David Osteen told Cybercast News Service.
"Quite frankly, it's highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that would come out of even the Senate in the next presidential term, much less two-thirds of House, much less ratify two-thirds of the states. Of course, the president has nothing to do with passing a constitutional amendment. He doesn't have a vote," Osteen added.
"What he said was, he was going to concentrate on what he could affect, and that's what we want him to do," Osteen said. "What he can affect is to see that judges are appointed that will interpret the Constitution according to its actual text. Abortion on demand is not in the Constitution of the United States, and Fred Thompson knows it."
Thompson has said he wants to see the reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the Supreme Court that legalized abortion nationwide. If the decision is overturned, the matter would go back to the states, but abortion would not be banned.
Though some Tennessee newspapers referred to Thompson as "pro-choice" in 1994 and 1996, Osteen said the NRLC met with him when he first entered the 1994 Senate race, and he then confirmed to them that he was pro-life.
Osteen stressed that the NRLC's endorsement was made at the grassroots level from state and local chapters across the country that voted for a candidate. He didn't provide the actual vote but said it was decisive for Thompson.
All of the Democratic candidates for president are pro-abortion.
On the Republican side, Giuliani, a former New York mayor, maintains his pro-abortion stance but has said he would appoint strict constructionist judges to the courts.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was pro-abortion but changed his position on the issue before entering the Republican primary. Arizona Sen. John McCain has a strong pro-life voting record as far as abortion is concerned, but he has supported federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Asked during the press conference about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has a virtually unblemished pro-life record, Osteen referred again to the electability issue and Thompson's standing in the national polls.
On another front, Parro criticized Thompson for saying last month that the government should not have intervened in the Terri Schiavo case in 2005. Schiavo was a Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed under her husband's directives and despite her parents' objections. Schiavo died on March 31, 2005.
Osteen said his pro-life group sought clarification on Thompson's remarks. Noting that Thompson opposes assisted suicide, Osteen also said Thompson supports keeping people alive as long as the family wants them to be kept alive.
"We have talked with him, and in cases when the family is divided, he believes the benefit of the doubt should be given to life," Osteen added.
On another sticking point that led largely to the group's angst toward McCain in 2000 was the issue of campaign finance reform, a bill that Thompson supported.
"Our opposition to McCain-Feingold dealt with our consideration of the ability of National Right to Life and grassroots citizens to express themselves in the process," Osteen said. "That cannot be compared to the question of protecting the lives of innocent unborn children and protecting them from being slaughtered."
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