A decade before calling himself “a consistent supporter of pro-life values,” Tennessee physician and Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais supported his ex-wife’s decision to get two abortions before their marriage, according to the congressman’s sworn testimony during his divorce trial.
Obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the couple’s 2001 trial transcript also confirms DesJarlais had sexual relationships with at least two patients, three coworkers and a drug representative while he was chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn. During one affair with a female patient, DesJarlais prescribed her drugs, gave her an $875 watch and bought her a plane ticket to Las Vegas, records show.
DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson did not respond to requests for comment. The attorney for the congressman's ex-wife said that at this point she does not have any comments to issue on her ex-husband's testimony.
The transcript corroborates accounts given to the Times Free Press in October by one of the patients who had a sexual relationship with DesJarlais. The newspaper continues to grant her anonymity, along with all the women due to the nature of the testimony.
DesJarlais, a family-values conservative who rode 2010’s tea party wave to Washington, testified his ex-wife’s earlier abortion stemmed from medical concerns.
“... [She] was on an experimental drug called Lupron and was not supposed to have gotten pregnant. There were potential risks. It was a therapeutic,” he said.
DesJarlais backed a second abortion after she returned from a military stint in Saudi Arabia a few years before they married in 1995.
“[It] was after she had gotten back from Desert Storm and things were not going well between us and it was a mutual decision,” he said.
The general practitioner reflected on both abortions in his testimony in Marion County Chancery Court.
“I don’t think that it was easy for either one of us,” he said. “I think it was a very difficult and poor choice and I think that there are probably regrets both ways.”
Eleven years after his testimony, DesJarlais’ official website states “all life should be cherished and protected.” The physician-turned-politician has proven himself a reliable vote for anti-abortion legislation, scoring the National Right to Life’s coveted 100 percent rating.
The divorce trial transcript surfaces eight days after the freshman Republican cruised to re-election past Democratic challenger Eric Stewart, persevering through October media reports of sleeping with patients and urging one to get an abortion.
The Tennessee Democratic Party had attempted to obtain the transcript before the Nov. 6 election, but the court delayed the process because the document was not typed up in its complete form.
But the party shrugged off the political tardiness of the revelations, saying the transcript rightly jeopardizes DesJarlais’ still-active medical license and congressional future.
“Voters deserve to have these surprises unmasked so they know exactly what they have in Congress,” Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said.
The 679-page transcript reveals new details about DesJarlais’ interactions with a 24-year-old-patient, who claimed she became pregnant with DesJarlais’ child during a short fling in 2000 and that the doctor later pressed her to have an abortion.
DesJarlais, who is now 48 years old, admitted in court to pressuring the woman over the phone to get an abortion, but said the whole conversation was a scheme orchestrated by him and his wife — with whom he had reconciled — to get the 24-year-old to admit she was not really pregnant.
“She goes, ‘I will have an abortion. This will never be a problem of yours,’” DesJarlais said. “And I think that she was trying to get me to pay her money and I refused to because there was no proof of the pregnancy.”
Under oath, DesJarlais said he and his wife recorded his phone conversation with the woman “to find out whether the girl was telling the truth or not.”
That directly contradicts the congressman’s campaign Facebook page, where he told supporters the phone conversation “was recorded without my knowledge.”
“ ... [The] media wrongly reported that I recorded the conversation myself,” DesJarlais wrote in the Oct. 12 note that was “liked” by 521 people. “I was recorded unknowingly and without my consent.”
In court proceedings, DesJarlais’ attorney, Stephen Greer, unsuccessfully pressed the 24-year-old patient to admit that she had never been pregnant.
“Mr. [Thomas] Austin asked you about your pregnancy or whatever. You apparently weren’t pregnant, were you?” he asked.
“Yes,” the woman retorted. “I was.”
Ultimately, the woman refused to offer more details when attorneys asked her about the outcome of her pregnancy.
“I really don’t care to answer that,” she said. “I mean, I don’t have a child by Dr. DesJarlais and that’s a personal thing.”
However, she said, “I was pretty much sure that he was the father of this child.”
In further proceedings, DesJarlais acknowledged that the woman was not the only patient he had a sexual relationship with that year.
DesJarlais stated in testimony that he carried on a four-month sexual affair with another patient, a woman he prescribed pills for during their relationship. He stressed that there was “nothing wrong” with the prescriptions he wrote, which included the painkiller Darvocet, and was indignant when asked about claims he had handled medication improperly.
“I don’t feel real obligated to respond to that. I think it’s ludicrous,” he said. “I’ve never been challenged or questioned in terms of my integrity before.”
He later admitted to buying the patient a $409 plane ticket to Las Vegas in May of 2000 — a trip she did not end up joining him on.
“Does that hospital not care that you are fooling around with patients out there?” DesJarlais’ wife’s attorney Thomas Austin grilled.
“They have not complained to me,” said DesJarlais, who later added that he had used “poor judgment.”
According to the American Medical Association, “Sexual contact that occurs concurrent with the patient-physician relationship constitutes sexual misconduct.”
Grandview Medical Center representatives declined to comment on DesJarlais’ previous status as chief of staff.
During the divorce trial, a number of colleagues and friends of DesJarlais defended the doctor, saying he was a caring, professional physician and a good father.
Verno Davidson, who identified herself as Grandview’s chief nursing officer at the time and a close neighbor of the DesJarlais family, said he was “very positive, both personally and professionally.”
“I have never seen a child that is attached to his father as that baby is,” she said. “And I will say that yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He — you can just see it in his eyes.”
At the end of his testimony, DesJarlais said he didn’t have any plans to leave Marion County despite the bitter divorce and the potential career-damaging revelations that came with it.
“It’s been the only home [our son] has known,” he said. “I’ve got a practice with three to four thousand loyal patients that I would not have to probably hang my head had a lot of things not been verbalized in the fashion that they were, but I’m not hanging my head. I’m ashamed of things that have happened, I’m moving on, and I’ll be fine.”
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6610. Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.