published Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Top Tennessee Republicans silent on DesJarlais abortion testimony


by Chris Carroll
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R.-Tenn., exits Judge Jacqueline Bolton's courtroom.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R.-Tenn., exits Judge Jacqueline Bolton's courtroom.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Republicans on abortion

Tennessee Republicans in Washington eagerly campaign on anti-abortion rhetoric. But they've refrained from discussing abortion revelations about one of their own.

•••

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, 4th Congressional District

Official website: "All life should be cherished and protected."

Aug. 22 statement to Chattanooga Times Free Press: "I have been a consistent supporter of pro-life values. ... Human life is sacred, and taxpayer funding of abortion is counter to the values a great many Tennesseans hold."

Thursday: As reported by the Times Free Press, DesJarlais in 2001 testified that he supported his ex-wife's decision to get two abortions before they were married. He said one resulted from her medical problems and another happened because "things were not going well between us and it was a mutual decision." Neither he nor his spokesman has commented on the testimony.

•••

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander

Aug. 25 statement to The Tennessean: "Sen. Alexander is pro-life. He opposes abortion, with the exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother." -- Alexander spokesman Jim Jeffries

Friday: "This is a matter between Rep. DesJarlais and his constituents," a statement released by Jeffries said.

•••

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker

Official website: "Senator Bob Corker is a strong advocate for the protection of life. He believes life begins at the moment of conception and will vote to protect the lives of unborn children."

Friday: Three communication aides declined to respond to requests for comment on DesJarlais.

•••

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, 1st Congressional District

Official website: "As an obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered close to 5,000 babies, I strongly support the sanctity of life. ... Abortion is not health care; it is a brutal procedure that ends the lives of unborn children and wounds their mothers."

Friday: Roe had no comment on DesJarlais, a spokesman said, but Roe told Roll Call, the online Capitol Hill newspaper: "I don't know that it reflects badly. I think it's an individual decision that someone's made."

•••

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, 2nd Congressional District

Record: Has voted to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood and training programs for physicians who perform abortions, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

Friday: Duncan had no comment on DesJarlais, a spokesman said.

•••

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, 3rd Congressional District

Campaign website: "I believe that every human life, beginning at conception, until its natural death, has a fundamental right to exist. ... I do not believe in abortion and I am opposed to the use of taxpayers' money to fund abortion."

Friday: Fleischmann had no comment, a spokesman said. The congressman told Roll Call he's "never heard anything adverse" about DesJarlais.

•••

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, 6th Congressional District

Official website: "As a nurse for over 40 years, I've seen countless babies delivered and I strongly support the sanctity of life. It's our responsibility and privilege as legislators to protect those who do not have a voice. That is why one of my first actions after coming to Congress was joining the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus."

Friday: A spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on DesJarlais.

•••

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, 7th Congressional District

Campaign website: "Marsha Blackburn is a strong advocate of pro-life principles. She has taken a strong stand in Congress to protect those who are incapable of protecting themselves."

Friday: Blackburn had no comment on DesJarlais, a spokesman said.

•••

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, 8th Congressional District

2010 campaign website: "I look forward to being a leader in the fight to protect our innocent unborn. ... I was 100 percent pro-life before this campaign began. I am 100 percent pro-life now. And, win or lose, I will remain 100 percent pro-life after this campaign is over."

Friday: Fincher had no comment on DesJarlais, a spokeswoman said.

•••

5th District U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and 9th District U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen are Democrats and do not proclaim an anti-abortion stance.

— By Chris Carroll

As U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais finished his third day without discussing the latest details to emerge from his personal life, top Tennessee Republicans deflected questions about whether he has stained his credibility as an anti-abortion advocate.

The Volunteer State's Republican governor, senators and House members are as silent as DesJarlais on the physician-turned-politician's sworn testimony about sleeping with patients and supporting his ex-wife's abortions.

Their reticence belies their rhetoric.

Despite blanket statements against abortion, Tennessee's Republican congressional representatives refuse to criticize one of their own for supporting what they consider a mortal sin.

On his campaign website, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe says, "Abortion is not health care; it is a brutal procedure that ends the lives of unborn children and wounds their mothers."

Friday, a reporter informed the Johnson City obstetrician and gynecologist about DesJarlais' testimony.

"I don't know that it reflects badly," Roe told the Washington, D.C., newspaper Roll Call. "I think it's an individual decision that someone's made."

Other Republicans, such as U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a West Tennessee Republican who has called himself "100 percent pro-life," declined to comment through aides. Same with U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black.

Hours after his boss told Roll Call "I've never heard anything adverse from anybody" about DesJarlais, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's spokesman Alek Vey declined further comment.

Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said the collective GOP silence signals the party's reluctance to confront hypocrisy within its own ranks.

"It's disgusting," he said. "They obviously believe in accountability for everyone but members of their own party."

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has said he's against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

One of the DesJarlais abortions happened because "things weren't going well and it was a mutual decision," he testified.

"This is a matter between Rep. DesJarlais and his constituents," Alexander said in a statement delivered by a spokesman.

Staffers for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker did not respond to requests for comment.

David Smith, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam, said Friday, "He's seen the [reports], but again, he's traveling."

Vanderbilt University political science professor Robert Oppenheimer said it's possible Republicans are holding their noses and waiting to see what DesJarlais does next.

"It's largely his move," Oppenheimer said. "He won the seat -- they know they have to work with him unless he steps down."

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