General Articles

Election 2008: Fred Thompson and the Politics of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson has been actively fundraising and campaigning as he begins the process of entering the 2008 presidential race. Thompson is already branding himself as a conservative Republican and attempting to gain support with that base by making his views known on key topics such as immigration and the Iraq war.1

Thompson is also hoping to appeal to the conservative base through another key issue—abortion. Recently, in a video that was posted to his website,, Thompson addressed members of the National Right to Life Committee at their annual conference. Thompson stated in the video:

“When I was in the Senate, a lot of people would come to see me, and it usually had to do with business matters or financial matters, or something pertaining to their financial welfare. When you came to see me, I always knew it was about something much more important than that—the most important thing of all in this world, and that is life…On abortion-related votes, I’ve been 100%.”2

In truth, however, Thompson has not been 100% consistent on matters of reproductive health. In 1991—three years before he won the Tennessee Senate seat in 1994—Thompson lobbied on behalf the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA)3.  NFPRHA, a non-profit organization that supports reproductive freedom for all, says that Thompson accepted an assignment to lobby the George H. W. Bush White House about easing a controversial funding restriction.4

Thompson, then a lobbyist and lawyer of counsel in the Washington firm Arnet Fox, worked on behalf of NFPRHA by talking to the White House chief of staff about ending a gag rule restricting domestic clinics that provided abortion counseling from receiving federal funds.5 Now, both Thompson and the former George H. W. Bush chief of staff have denied Thompson’s lobbying for the maintenance of sexual and reproductive health and rights. In fact, on his own election website, Thompson completely glosses over the time period of his professional career in which he was a private lobbyist, instead highlighting his time as a public servant in the early 1980s then skipping to his Senate race in 1994.6

As further evidence that his views on reproductive rights have noticeably shifted with his move towards the presidency, during his Senate race in 1994, Thompson was asked directly, “Do you support or oppose laws that prohibit abortions for convenience?” He responded, “I do not believe that the federal government ought to be involved in that process….When you get right down to the question that was posed—should the government come in and criminalize let’s say a young girl and her parents and her doctor…I think not.”7

In gearing up for the presidential race, Thompson’s tune has become quite different. In a television interview this March, Thompson stated in response to his stance on abortion that he is “pro-life…I think Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad medical science.”8

“Thompson’s inconsistencies with messaging and his willingness to shift opinion while pandering to the conservative base clearly suggest that during this election he will truly be playing politics with sexual and reproductive rights and health,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. 


  1. Michael Shear and Dan Balz, “Thompson Bid Would Stir Up GOP Race,” The Washington Post, 31 May 2007, accessed 23 July 2007, <>.
  2. “Fred Speaking to the National Right to Life Committee,” I’mWithFred, 16 June 2007, accessed 23 July 2007, <>.
  3. “Election 2008: Fred Thompson Lobbied for National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Group Says,” Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy Report 9 July 2007, accessed 23 July 2007, <>.
  4. “About NFPRHA: Mission Statement,” National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, accessed 23 July 2007, <>.
    Michael Finnegan, “Thompson lobbied for abortion-rights group, it says,” Los Angeles Times, 7 July 2007, accessed 23 July 2007, <,0,54260.story?coll=la-home-center<.
  5. Ibid.
  6. “About Fred,” I’mWithFred, accessed 23 July 2007,<>.
  7.   “Fred Thompson talks about abortion,” YouTube, accessed 24 July 2007,
  8. “Fred on the issues,” accessed 24 July 2007, FOX NEWS, “Transcript: Former Sen. Fred Thompson on ‘FOX News Sunday,’” 11 March 2007, accessed 25 July 2007, <,2933,258222,00.html>.