He Said, He Said: Thompson on Abortion

"Pro-life" and "pro-choice" abortion papers found in ex-senator's archives.

Aug. 16, 2007 — -- In what seems a sure indication he will soon officially declare his presidential candidacy, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson will appear in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa Friday, meeting with locals and even making a trip to the Iowa State Fair.

But though the actor and lawyer is being celebrated by social conservatives as a possible answer to their prayers for an electable presidential candidate with whom they agree on key issues, Thompson's foray into the Hawkeye State comes at a time when documents from his Senate and campaign archives provoke further questions about whether he truly is the political savior that conservative Republicans hope he is.

The papers that Thompson donated to the University of Tennessee -- which, unlike the first lady papers of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, were made accessible to the public by Thompson -- offer a view as to Thompson's political career that seems not always in firm alliance with Christian conservatives.

ABC News has obtained, for instance, two sets of position papers on abortion from Thompson's 1996 Senate race that indicate Thompson may have been to a degree trying to appeal to both those who support and those who oppose abortion rights.

CLICK HERE to read these two position papers in full.

In one "position paper on abortion" someone has written "(PRO-LIFE)" on the top right-hand corner, and the document states "Senator Thompson has a strong pro-life voting record in the Senate." The paper contains seven examples of votes Thompson cast against legal abortion.

Another "position paper on abortion," however, on which someone has written "(PRO-CHOICE)" omits the statement that "Senator Thompson has a strong pro-life voting record in the Senate," and it does not mention the seven votes he cast against legal abortion.

The "PRO-CHOICE" position paper mentions, as does the "PRO-LIFE" one, that Thompson opposes "federal funding of abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger," and supports other restrictions, while concluding that "(b)eyond that, Senator Thompson has said that the federal government should not be involved in the issue of abortion. He does not believe that early term-abortions should be criminalized. He feels instead that this is a battle that must be won in the hearts and minds of the American people."

Asked for comment, Thompson spokeswoman Linda Rozett said in a statement, "These papers show Sen. Thompson's position on abortion is clear and consistent. He has a 100 percent pro-life voting record in the Senate."

Whether or not answers like that will suffice for conservatives in Iowa and New Hampshire may mean the difference between success or failure for Thompson.

Social conservatives have expressed some disappointment with the current crop of top-tier Republican presidential candidates, finding wanting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for various reasons.

Thompson in no small way has sold his pending campaign as the solution to the dilemma facing those conservatives.

And to a degree, it seems that Thompson's argument may be working.

Contacted about the recently discovered papers from Thompson's Senate archives, Kim Lehman, president of the Iowa Right to Life Committee, told ABC News that she "has no concerns" about Thompson's position on the issue.

A candidate's "voting record is what we look to to determine whether or not what he says is what he's going to do," Lehman said. "He has a record and his record speaks for itself. As for this documentation, I would be speculating as to what it means. But the reality is he's pro-life and will be pro-life and we can count on him to be pro-life. I believe the man."

David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, likewise said that the documents meant nothing to him in light of Thompson's "strong pro-life voting record."

"I don't know who did this or who prepared it," O'Steen said of the position papers. "Or who hand-wrote that up top. And it was 11 years ago. But there's nothing in here that would be of any concern to me. The proof of his position is the voting record in the Senate."

Others may have their doubts, as investigations by the media and rival candidates have revealed that the man who most recently starred on NBC's "Law & Order" as conservative Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch was not necessarily a darling of social conservatives during his eight years in the U.S. Senate.

One document recently reported by the Christian Broadcasting Network is an Aug. 19, 1994, memo from the state Republican chairman to Thompson and his then (and current) chief campaign aide Bill Lacy reporting that Tennessee Christian Coalition president John Hanna has "some serious concerns about his candidacy" in Thompson's Senate race against Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.

CLICK HERE to read that memo in full.

"Fred scored 92 on their questionnaire but the talk is NOT GOOD," the memo stated. "Hanna said that the line used in their leadership circles and beginning to get down into the rank is 'Between Thompson and Cooper where is the choice?' Hanna said that he will personally vote for Fred only because his 'conservative peers in Congress will get him to do the right thing, not because of Fred's own principles.'"

Bemoaning the fact that "there is not a relationship between Fred Thompson and the Christian Coalition," Hanna shared his view "that most people perceive that Fred was no different than Cooper, regardless of the rating on the Christian Coalition's scorecard."

As a senator, Thompson had a reliably conservative voting record, with a few blips here and there, such as his support for campaign finance reform.

In 2000, the Christian Coalition gave him a 77 percent rating on its issues, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave him a rating of 93 percent. The nonpartisan National Journal reported that Thompson was far more likely to vote with the conservative point of view if the issues dealt with international affairs or economic issues, and less likely to fall into lockstep on socially conservative issues.

In 1996, Thompson suggested that anti-abortion language in the GOP platform was unnecessarily divisive.

"We need to concentrate on what brings us together and not what divides us," Thompson told the Tennessean.

The other GOP front-runners also have mixed records, as far as the "pro-life" movement is concerned.

Giuliani supports abortion rights, though he seeks to emphasize how as mayor the number of abortions in New York decreased while the number of adoptions increased.

Romney, in a 1994 Senate race, said he would "protect a woman's right to choose," though he now said he had an epiphany about the issue in 2005 that makes him now oppose abortion rights.

McCain has consistently voted against abortion rights, but his support for embryonic stem cell research and campaign finance reform, which threatened various advocacy groups including those opposing abortion, has alienated abortion opponents.

Thompson's as-yet-undeclared presidential campaign has been something of an anticlimax. After predictions of $5 million in fundraising, his presidential exploratory committee raised $3.5 million after launching in June.

There has also been a great deal of staff turnover at his committee, with some former staffers complaining that his wife, Jeri Thompson, has exerted too much control. The formal campaign announcement, which originally was supposed to be around the Fourth of July, has been pushed off several times.

Many conservative supporters of Thompson see these issues as nitpicking. In one of his many acting roles, Thompson played the president in a TV movie about loose nukes called "Last Best Chance" -- and to many social conservatives, that's what Thompson is himself.