The following piece is published on Iowa Independent as well as HuffPost's OffTheBus.
National Right to Life became the first national grassroots organization to issue a formal endorsement in the Republican presidential contest Tuesday morning when they put their support behind former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
"We are thrilled and honored," said Thompson's Iowa Campaign Director Bob Haus in a phone interview. "We just couldn't be happier. This reinforces that the senator's 100 percent pro-life record has been recognized by the National Right to Life. We are simply honored to have an endorsement at that level."
The endorsement is the first Thompson has garnered from a national social conservative group -- a voting bloc that was credited with President George W. Bush's presidential victories and that is being heavily courted by all the hopefuls in the Republican field.
"Our endorsement is a testament to Senator Thompson's long-standing pro-life record, his commitment to unborn children and our belief in his ability to win," said Dr. Wanda Franz, president of National Right to Life.
At the end of the day, when faced with a field of Republican candidates that all have strong -- if not perfect -- anti-abortion voting records, the final decision may come down to exactly what Franz outlined: Endorsing the person perceived to be most viable in the 2008 general election. In the press release issued by the national organization this morning the group touted Thompson's electability while taking a swipe at rival Rudy Giuliani: "Since announcing his candidacy in September, Fred Thompson has run second only to pro-abortion candidate Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination in the overwhelming majority of national polls. As pro-lifers throughout the nation begin to unite behind his candidacy, he will be well positioned to win the nomination and the presidency."
The endorsement comes despite an early November appearance on Meet the Press in which Thompson refused full support of a long-term Republican National Platform plank calling for a human life amendment, both his campaign and National Right to Life point to his commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that put an end to state control and declared abortion a constitutional right. Since 1976, three years after that landmark ruling, the Republican National Platform has included language supporting a human life amendment. The focus has since been expanded to support the belief that the 14th Amendment, which includes the right of equal protection under the law, extends to fetuses.
"Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions," Thompson said when questioned by host Tim Russert about the platform. "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."
Thompson went on to say in that interview that he does not favor "criminalizing" the taking of human life through abortion. Critics of the opinions expressed by Thompson have pointed to these statements as proof that he is soft on abortion. Kim Lehman, president of Iowa Right to Life, said that when she listened to that interview, she heard a stance that falls into step with the state and national organization.
"What I heard him saying -- we always want to protect women and he didn't want to criminalize the woman," she said by phone this morning. "I don't think, even in the history of abortion laws in the states, that we criminalized the woman. It was always the abortionist. That's my understanding of his comments.
"Fred Thompson has a 100 percent pro-life voting record and that he wants to protect women would fall in line with all pro-life activity that we do. We do want to protect women. It's about the woman and the baby. Women are harmed by abortion."
Iowa Right to Life and the other 49 state affiliate organizations now have a choice to make. They can either support the national organization's endorsement of Thompson or they can remain neutral. Lehman said the decision from the Iowa group will be forthcoming in the next few weeks, but stopped short on speculating where the members might fall.
"I really think it will come down to a majority vote," she said. "I have no idea because we live in a caucus state. In a caucus state, everyone is pretty active in politics and so, typically, board members work and volunteer for their choice of pro-life candidates on an individual basis. So, I don't know where people are on their individual support of candidates.
"I think at this point -- as close as we are to the caucuses -- [the decision] is not going to be on a personal decision level. It's going to be on a practical level on being able to take the executive branch in the final election. So, it's going to be an interesting discussion."
Haus said he was aware of the discussions that would now take place within the state organization, but rejected use of the word lobby when it came to how those decision makers would be approached.
"We have close communications with a lot of the board members," he said. "I think a lot of us in the Iowa operation consider many of them friends. Apart from presidential politics, we've been in the trenches, on the issue and in the political battles for years together. Lobby might be a strong word. Reinforcement. Humble requests. Among that board there are some people who support other candidates and we are very respectful of that, but that doesn't mean that we don't think our guy is the best guy."