WASHINGTON (BP)–The National Right to Life Committee’s Nov. 13 endorsement of Fred Thompson for president came just days after other pro-life advocates scattered their support among Republican candidates.
Despite recent endorsements of other candidates by pro-family leaders and three former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) President Wanda Franz said at a Washington news conference her organization believes Thompson has the “ability to win.”
NRLC’s support carries more weight than personal endorsements because it represents an entire voting bloc, Franz said. The decision to back Thompson was made Nov. 11 by the 58 board members who represent Right to Life chapters across the country.
“As pro-lifers throughout the nation begin to unite behind [Thompson’s] candidacy, he will be well positioned to win the nomination and presidency,” she said.
The committee’s endorsement came despite its disagreement with the former U.S. senator from Tennessee on a significant pro-life issue.
Although the NRLC supports an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect human life from conception, Thompson does not. On Nov. 4, Thompson said on “Meet the Press” he would not support such an amendment that would ban abortion. He does, though, believe the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide should be reversed and the issue returned to the states for their action. Thompson’s position on a human life amendment also differs from the GOP platform.
David O’Steen, NRLC’s executive director, said Thompson was simply concentrating on “what he can affect,” referring to the lack of support in Congress for such an amendment.
“And that’s what we want him to do,” O’Steen said.
NRLC endorsed Thompson over other candidates who have reached out to pro-life voters. Most notable are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“Gov. Huckabee has a strong pro-life record, but we looked at three factors, not only their record and their stands on issues, but also electability,” O’Steen said. Citing an “overwhelming number of national polls” that have ranked Thompson No. 2 behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the committee said it believes Thompson has the strength to pull ahead.
Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and longtime pro-life advocate, emphasized his own ability to pull together a pro-life backing.
“I am disappointed by this decision but I also know that the very grassroots activists across America who have made the National Right to Life movement a success will continue to join my campaign,” Huckabee said in a written statement.
As for Romney, who is doing well in early voting states, the committee pointed to his recent conversion to the pro-life position.
“Gov. Romney has actively reached out to the social conservative community, and he is proud to count on key social conservatives’ support across the country,” Romney spokesman Alex Burgos told Baptist Press. “He understands that he is unlikely to receive every endorsement.”
At the Value Voters Summit in October, Thompson declared his continued commitment to protecting life following “a 100 percent pro-life voting record” during his eight years in the Senate. Thompson said, “That’s who I was then. That’s who I am today. And that’s the kind of president I would be.”
Thompson ranked third in a straw poll at the Washington summit, which was sponsored by a variety of pro-family and pro-life groups. Meanwhile, Huckabee placed first among attendees, and Romney was second.
O’Steen expressed confidence in Thompson’s ability to receive the Republican nomination.
“I realize that some candidates may have close-to-home state advantage in some of the early primaries, but I think you’ll see him do well in some. I think that the national standing will be more important than ever this year,” O’Steen said.
Thompson has potential in South Carolina and Nevada, O’Steen projected. Both are among the first states to have their say.
The endorsement of Thompson by one of the country’s leading pro-life organizations followed closely on the heels of Don Wildmon’s announcement of support for Huckabee. Wildmon is the founder and chairman of the American Family Association, a national pro-family organization.
Other recent endorsements from pro-life, pro-family conservatives for GOP presidential candidates include:
— Former SBC Presidents James Draper, Jerry Vines and Jack Graham personally endorsed Huckabee, as did Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin.
— Jay Strack, president of Student Leadership University and a former Southern Baptist evangelist; Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel; Billy McCormack, an early leader of the Christian Coalition, and Stephen Strang, founder of Charisma magazine, also announced their support for Huckabee.
— Paul Weyrich, chairman of Free Congress Foundation, endorsed Romney.
— Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., gave his backing to Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
— Pat Robertson, TV host and founder of the Christian Coalition, endorsed Giuliani, who supports abortion rights.
All of the Democratic presidential candidates favor abortion rights.
Erica Simons is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.