(CNSNews.com) - Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, now running for the Republican presidential nomination, said on Sunday he does not support the pro-life plank that has been included in the Republican National Platform since the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Thompson told host Tim Russert that he favors overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that took the issue of abortion away from the states by declaring abortion a constitutional right. Thompson said he wants to keep abortion legal at the state level.
"People ask me hypothetically, you know, OK, it goes back to the states," said Thompson. "Somebody comes up with a bill, and they say we're going to outlaw this, that, 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 or perhaps their family physician. And that's what you're talking about. It's not a sense of the Senate. You're talking about potential criminal law."
If abortions are not "criminalized" even for doctors who are paid to perform them, they will remain legal.
The Republican National Platform has included language endorsing a human life amendment since 1976, the first presidential election following the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
Since 1984, the year President Ronald Reagan ran for re-election, each quadrennial Republican platform has included the same pro-life language, calling for both a human life amendment and for legislation making clear that the 14th Amendment, which includes the right to equal protection of the law, extends to unborn babies.
On "Meet the Press," Russert read Thompson the language of the Republican "pro-life" plank and asked Thompson to state his position on it.
"This," said Russert, "is the 2004 Republican Party platform, and here it is: 'We say the unborn child has 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 Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions.' Could you run as a candidate on that platform, promising a human life amendment banning all abortions?"
"No," said Thompson.
"You would not?" said Russert.
"No," said Thompson. "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 to particularly Roe v. Wade because of that.
"Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions. I think people ought to be free at 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 the federal government is, is, is -- serves 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. But..."
"Each state would make their own abortion laws?" Russert asked.
"Yeah," said Thompson. "But, but, but to, to, to have an amendment compelling -- going back even further than pre-Roe v. Wade, to have a constitutional amendment to do that, I do not think would be the way to go."
Thompson told Russert that since he ran for the Senate in 1994, he has changed his mind about whether human life begins at conception.
Back then, he did not know the answer, he said. Now, especially in light of having seen the sonogram of his four-year-old child, he has changed his mind -- and now believes human life does begin at conception.
Still, he does not favor "criminalizing" the taking of a human life through abortion. Russert challenged him on the consistency of this position.
"So while you believe that life begins at conception, the taking of a human life?" said Russert.
"Yes, I, I, I, I do," said Thompson.
"You would allow abortion to be performed in states if chosen by states for people who think otherwise?" asked Russert.
"I do not think that you can have a, a, 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, 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," said Thompson.
In an interview with Fox News Monday morning, Thompson said he's been pro-life all his career -- "and always will be."
Thompson insisted that he's been consistent on the issue, unlike other Republicans.
"Look at what I did for eight years in the United States Senate. I mean, we had votes on federal funding for abortion, we had votes on partial birth abortion, we had votes on the Mexico City policy, we had votes on cloning, we had votes to prohibit people taking young girls across state lines to avoid parental consent laws -- that's what I did. Those are the issues that face the federal government," Thompson said.
"I would have done the same policies as president that I did when I was in the United States Senate, which is one hundred percent pro-life," he said.
"I can't reach into every person to change their hearts and minds in America, but I can certainly make sure where, for example, federal tax dollars go."
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.