That Time Bill Clinton Suggested the Santorums Had an Abortion

Audio: Clinton biographer recounts presidential accusation of Santorum abortion

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton / AP
December 2, 2015

An award-winning biographer of President Bill Clinton said the former president suspected that Republican Rick Santorum and his wife decided to have an abortion and have been lying for decades about the death of one of their children, according to audio recordings obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Clinton made the "cryptic comment" on May 26, 1997, to Taylor Branch, a longtime Clinton friend who conducted interviews with the president during his time in the White House and wrote a book based on them. After each interview concluded, Branch recounted what Clinton said into a tape recorder.

"[Clinton] said something cryptic about Santorum," Branch said in the tape. "He said, ‘Their child died a few hours after delivery.’ Then he said, ‘One day he’ll be found out.’"

Branch initially thought that Clinton was saying that Santorum "would be found out as an airhead," but later came to the conclusion that Clinton’s comment was much darker.

"In retrospect, after he said that cryptic remark about his wife, I wondered if what he was saying was that it would be found out that what they said was actually an infant death was instead really an abortion," said Branch. "That they had an abortion and then said that the baby died shortly after birth as a way of covering it."

Branch said Clinton was leaving a note to himself with the "cryptic remark" and made sure that the meaning was unclear.

"He was not very explicit about it, so maybe he was just leaving a signal that he would recognize and decipher so he could remember it without really making the meaning clear to me," Branch said on the recording.

Branch notes in his 2009 book that Clinton "made cryptic comments about Santorum’s sincerity" but does not offer his opinion of what Clinton’s cryptic comment may have meant. The book was advertised as a look at "what President Clinton thought and felt but could not say in public."

The Clinton Foundation did not respond to questions regarding whether Clinton still believes that Santorum was lying.

Clinton’s comments about Santorum came during a discussion with Branch on partial-birth abortion, in which he complained that the insensitivity of the pro-choice movement made "a statesman out of Rick Santorum."

Clinton said that pro-choice activists "framed the question selfishly by putting it in terms of a woman’s right to do whatever she wanted," making it seem like they were fighting for a "selfish woman’s right to crush her baby’s skull."

Clinton saw some of the pro-choice stances as extreme, such as the belief that third-trimester abortion should be legal.

"I believe that if you can’t make up your mind in the first six months, you don’t have the right to have an abortion," Clinton said according to Branch.

"He said the pro-choice people have essentially allowed their own insensitivities to push them into a losing political situation and make a statesman out of Rick Santorum, which he rolled his eyes at," said Branch.

Branch added that in earlier conversations, Clinton had been "scathing of Santorum as a terrible candidate and an idiot."

Matt Beynon, communications director for the Santorum campaign, told the Free Beacon that Clinton’s suspicions were untrue and "sad."

"The Santorum family went through a family tragedy 20 years ago when they lost their son Gabriel," said Beynon. "It is disappointing to hear that the president would make such a callous remark about it."

Santorum himself has been open about the circumstances of the 1996 death of his son Gabriel, who would have been the couple’s fourth child.

Santorum just last month told the story of what his family went through.

"I’ll never forget the sonographer going over Karen’s abdomen and looking up to us and saying, ‘Your child has a fatal defect and is going to die,’" Santorum said during a forum in Iowa.

"We resolved that we would not lose our son," Santorum said. "We had inter-uterine surgery—something very experimental—and it worked. Except three days later, Karen got an infection and he was delivered at 21 weeks."

"We were blessed that he was born alive. We had the opportunity to hold him for two hours in which he knew only love. And then he passed in our arms."

Karen Santorum would later publish the letters she wrote to the child she lost in a book titled Letters to Gabriel, which has been used by grieving families following the loss of a child.

The rumors that Karen Santorum had an abortion have long floated around the Internet, but they came to a peak during the 2012 Republican primary when Rick Santorum began to gain momentum.

Stories incorrectly stated that the Santorums decided to induce labor in hopes that it would save Karen Santorum’s life, even though that never happened.

Salon's Irin Carmon, an openly pro-choice liberal journalist, shut the door on that iteration of Santorum abortion-trutherism by talking to medical experts that explained to her the complications that led to the baby’s death. Carmon explained the false reporting was a "medical misunderstanding" of what an abortion truly was.

However, a medical misunderstanding may not be the cause of Clinton’s belief that Santorum was lying. Branch wrote in his book that Clinton "spewed technical details" like "a medical specialist" on the topic of abortion.

Santorum himself has fought back against mischaracterizations of the incident, correcting CBS’s Bob Schieffer when he said that the Santorums had a "child that was stillborn" even though the baby was born alive.

Audio recordings of the actual conversations between Clinton and Branch exist, but remain in Clinton’s possession and have not been made available to the public.

Judicial Watch, a government transparency advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) arguing that the audio tapes should be made available to the public due to requirements in the Presidential Records Act.

"These Clinton tapes are presidential records according to the law and they belong to the American people, not President Clinton," Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said at the time. "Obviously President Clinton has a vested interest in preventing the release of information that might prove embarrassing or incriminating."

A court dismissed the lawsuit in 2012, concluding that NARA could not reasonably be expected to "assume custody and control" of the tapes from Clinton.

The Clinton Presidential Library still maintains that oral history recordings are exempt from freedom of information laws and that it has not reviewed the content of them.

Published under: Abortion , Bill Clinton