NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican congressman from Tennessee is telling supporters he’s not a hypocrite for discussing abortion with a mistress more than a decade ago. But now he may also have to defend his right to practice medicine.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician who opposes abortion rights, said in a letter that he was “deeply sorry” that supporters had to find out about the relationship with a patient that occurred while Mr. DesJarlais was separated from his first wife. But he said he used stark language about traveling to Atlanta to get an abortion try to get the woman to acknowledge that she wasn’t pregnant.
“I appreciate that this was an imprudent approach to this situation and I’m not proud of it,” Mr. DesJarlais wrote in the letter. “In retrospect I should have dealt with these matters in a more diplomatic fashion.
“I am not trying to justify my actions or say that I am without fault,” he said. “But I am not the hypocrite my opponents and some liberal media outlets are portraying me as.”
Meanwhile, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on Monday filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health arguing that Mr. DesJarlais engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient.
“Tennessee law is crystal clear: Doctors are prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with patients,” Melanie Sloan, the group’s executive director, said in a release. “The only question remaining is, now that Tennessee authorities are aware of Rep. DesJarlais’ blatantly unethical and scurrilous conduct, what are they going to do about it?”
A spokesman said the Health Department does not reveal information about investigations until a complaint is reviewed.
Mr. DesJarlais in the letter called the relationship with the woman he had treated for a foot injury “completely mutual.” He disputed her being described as a mistress in press accounts because he said he was separated from his wife until the divorce was finalized in 2001.
The woman is not named in the transcript of the phone conversation that emerged last week, and the lawmaker said he wasn’t aware that the discussion was being recorded.
In granting the divorce between Scott and Susan DesJarlais the judge, Jeffrey F. Stewart, said “there were numerous indiscretions and admittedly on the part of each party,” and noted that an attempt at reconciliation had failed.
The divorce became a major issue in Mr. DesJarlais’ 2010 campaign against Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis, who ran ads citing several items from the court records, including allegations that the Republican once held a gun in his mouth for three hours and that he repeatedly pulled the trigger of an unloaded gun outside his former wife’s bedroom door.
Mr. DesJarlais, who enjoyed strong tea party support in his 2010 run, is facing a spirited challenge from Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart. Mr. Stewart on the stump recently said his opponent’s “disgusting” behavior “disqualifies the congressman from representing this district.”
Mr. DesJarlais in the letter stressed a “strong pro-life record in Congress and history of fighting for values important to Tennesseans,” and said he hoped voters would look beyond the issues surrounding his split with his first wife.
“It seems almost as if I’ve never run against another candidate — only a 12-year-old divorce,” he wrote.
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