Commentary by Douglas Johnson
  Director of Congressional Affairs
  National Right to Life, Washington, D.C.

I have been closely following the race for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat over the past couple of months. I have been somewhat astonished at the degree to which many journalists, and even some conservative commentators, have unskeptically accepted the recent declarations by Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., that “I am pro-life.” Mr. Ford made this declaration most recently on Tucker Carlson’s program on MSNBC today (October 30).

My astonishment is due to the fact that Mr. Ford’s claim to be “pro-life” cannot survive ten minutes study of his actual voting record on abortion-related issues in the House of Representatives. During his 10-year tenure, Mr. Ford has voted against the pro-life side 87 percent of the time. On several major pro-life issues, including federal funding of abortion on demand, Mr. Ford has voted against every other member of the Tennessee congressional delegation, both Democrat and Republican.

Whether one favors pro-life laws or opposes them, I hope you will agree that the voters have a right to know how a candidate has actually voted or would vote on issues of such gravity. But Mr. Ford is misleading the electorate by adopting the label of the pro-life side, while attempting to deflect attention away from a voting record that puts him firmly in the other camp.

Here are a few facts about Mr. Ford’s record in Congress:

Although Mr. Ford now says he wants to “eliminate” abortion, for 10 years he has voted, every time the issue came up, to repeal any limitations on federal funding of elective abortions. This, despite a great deal of empirical evidence that restricting such funding has resulted in many fewer abortions (a fact that pro-abortion advocacy groups acknowledge, and lament).Â

In 1997, he voted to repeal the Hyde Amendment. That attempt failed—but if successful, it would have resulted in federal funding of from 325,000 to 675,000 elective abortions per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Mr. Ford was the ONLY House member from Tennessee, from either party, to vote to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

Since then, he has consistently voted for federal funding of abortion without limitation in other programs as well—for example, for federal funding of abortion for elective abortions for federal employees, and even for incarcerated federal felons.Â

Mr. Ford’s campaign says that these votes on funding of abortion were merely to implement “the law of the land.” But the “law of the land” IS the Hyde Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Hyde Amendment, ruling that there is no constitutional obligation for the government to fund abortions, and that the government can favor childbirth over abortion.

Moreover, Mr. Ford was also the ONLY member of the Tennessee House delegation to vote against the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act in 2002—a law that merely protects health care providers who do not wish to participate in providing abortions.Â

In 2003, Mr. Ford and Rep. Jim Cooper were the ONLY Tennessee members of Congress, House or Senate, to oppose “Laci and Conner’s Law,” which recognizes an unborn child injured or killed in a violent federal crime as a bona fide crime victim. (This bill did not even apply to abortion, but it was opposed by the pro-abortion advocacy groups, and so Ford opposed it, too. Ford gets high ratings from such groups. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported on October 21, “According to Planned Parenthood, Rep. Ford has voted for abortion rights 88 percent of the time.”)

Mr. Ford now likes to talk about his support for the ban on partial-birth abortions. He actually voted against that bill until 2000. Then he switched. But right up to the time that the bill was finally enacted in 2003, he continued to vote for unsuccessful killer amendments. That is the also the pattern on the other small number of issues on which Ford has tossed a vote to the pro-life side—he first votes for gutting amendments, and only after those amendments fail does he cast a vote in favor of final passage.

Additional documentation on Mr. Ford’s actual voting record on abortion-related issues is available on request, or can be examined in the NRLC U.S. House scorecards posted for 1997 to date here:


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