Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), the former physician turned anti-abortion Tennessee Republican congressman, says he hadn’t given abortion as much thought as he “should have” when he supported his first wife’s decisions to have two abortions, and that he often used “very poor judgment” during his first marriage and the separation that followed it.
He now looks back with regret, he says, on the sexual relationships he had with two patients, three co-workers and a drug company representative while he was chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper.
DesJarlais won reelection earlier this month, despite the campaign-season revelation that, over a decade ago, he pressured a mistress to have an abortion. In October, he had explained that story by saying he didn’t believe his mistress was really pregnant at the time, and had urged her to get an abortion to call her bluff.
But a 679-page court transcript from his divorce trial in 2001, released in the days after Election Day, made public much more about DesJarlais’ past — including the fact that his first wife had two abortions. In an interview with The Knoxville News Sentinel this week, DesJarlais said he never intentionally misled voters about his past, and has no plans to resign.
“I am human,” he told the paper. “I don’t think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect. I put myself out there as somebody who wanted to serve the public.”
According to the News Sentinel, the court document states that DesJarlais’ first wife had her first abortion when she was on an experimental drug that raised potential risks with the pregnancy. The second abortion occurred when the pair were having problems in their relationship. DesJarlais told the paper his views on abortion have evolved, and that charges of hypocrisy were unfair.
“I guess as a physician, I was a fairly objective person,” he said of his beliefs at the time. “I try not to be a judgmental person. [Abortion] was just not something that I put as much thought into as I should have, in retrospect. Going back, if I could change and do things differently, certainly I would.”
DesJarlais also said he made a mistake in October, when he denied taping a phone conversation with the mistress who he urged to get an abortion. The now-public court transcript documented his admitting to making the recording.
“One of the biggest mistakes I made was I commented to the press before I had the opportunity to go back and read a transcript that was 13, 14 years old,” he told the paper. “It was never my intention to mislead anyone, and had I read this, I don’t think the inaccuracies that occurred would have taken place.”
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Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com