NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a physician, said Friday he was convinced a woman he had sex with a dozen years ago wasn't actually pregnant despite her claims he was responsible for impregnating her.
"There was no pregnancy and there was no abortion," the 4th District representative told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
A freshman lawmaker from Jasper, Tenn., who touts his opposition to abortion rights, the lawmaker is battling a controversy stemming from a recorded 2000 conversation in which he presses the unnamed woman to get an abortion.
"I was attempting to use strong language to get her to tell me the truth," said DesJarlais, who added that he didn't record the conversation and was unaware it was being recorded.
The congressman has come under attack from Democratic opponent Eric Stewart over the transcript, which surfaced earlier this week. The controversy has made national news.
In a radio interview with WTN's "Ralph Bristol Show" in Nashville, DesJarlais charged that "a disgruntled, defeated ex-congressman, a vindictive ex-wife and a desperate Democratic candidate" were behind the disclosure of a transcript from his conversation with the unnamed woman.
Stewart, a state senator from Winchester, later held a news conference where he lambasted the congressman.
"I'm the one to blame?" he said. "I didn't sleep with a patient, I didn't have an affair on my wife, I didn't -- real or not real -- record a conversation to coerce that patient and mistress to have an abortion."
DesJarlais told the Times Free Press he did not record the conversation with the woman, which he added took place during a time he was attempting to reconcile with his then-wife, Susan DesJarlais.
Stewart, meanwhile, charged that DesJarlais "has missed the point. The point is that you have the audacity to lie to the voters, to make Tennessee a national embarrassment."
When the transcript was published in the Huffington Post earlier this week, DesJarlais' office initially called the matter "an old story" that had surfaced during his 2010 campaign with then-U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn.
That campaign drew national attention, as has this one, when Davis raised charges made by Susan DesJarlais in their divorce that he intimidated her and at one point put a gun in his mouth for three hours. DesJarlais denied the charge.
But the abortion matter did not become public until this week.
According to the transcript, DesJarlais questioned the woman on why she hadn't taken steps toward terminating the pregnancy.
"You told me you'd have an abortion, and now we're getting too far along without one," DesJarlais is quoted as saying. "If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let's do it."
He also told her he wanted an ultrasound and at another point confronted her with an assertion that she had been with another man three days earlier.
DesJarlais said in the interview that he pushed the issue because as a doctor, he knew the woman should have been showing signs of pregnancy because "it was approximately four months from the time that I had been with her."
Moreover, DesJarlais said, a mutual friend strongly cast doubts about the truthfulness of the claims made by the woman, whom he met after treating her for an ankle problem.
"Again, there was a lot of poor judgment involved, probably on the part of both parties," DesJarlais said.
At the time, DesJarlais said he was attempting to reconcile with his wife for the sake of their son. The couple had been in divorce proceedings since late 1998. "After a period of separation, my wife and I agreed ... [and] signed an agreement we could see other people," he said, noting both did.
He rejected characterizations of the woman as his "mistress."
The couple's divorce was finalized in 2001.
"The one thing I think is lost in this is the devastation it causes for the families," DesJarlais said.
Meanwhile, DesJarlais said he doesn't blame Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign for taking down a news release from its website in which DesJarlais endorsed Romney.
DesJarlais said he understands.
"I understand that Gov. Romney is in the midst of a very important race, and I think distractions from congressional races are not something he needs. I certainly understand he needs to focus on winning the presidential race."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...