As Republicans prepared to battle Barack Obama’s re-election in 2011, Matthew Whitaker bounded on to a stage in Washington to rally the party’s troops on the “culture wars” between conservatives and liberals on social policy.
“They’re not over,” Whitaker assured his audience, at an event convened by Steve King, the rightwing Iowa congressman. “We’re still fighting.”
Whitaker and his allies lost ensuing battles on issues such as same-sex marriage. But civil rights activists fear that having now been installed as Donald Trump’s acting attorney general, Whitaker is readying a counterattack.
A review by The Guardian of previously unreported remarks revealed Whitaker has advocated for hardline anti-abortion policies that would drastically reshape laws affecting American women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
Whitaker, a conservative Christian, endorsed “personhood” bills that would effectively outlaw abortion, and said as a Senate candidate that he would spend every day in Washington pushing anti-abortion policy.
He also once said that as a federal prosecutor, he personally disagreed with having to use a clinic protection law against a man who crashed his car into a women’s health facility and tried to set it on fire while complaining about abortion.
The comments position Whitaker, a conservative Christian, as an even more forceful opponent of abortion than his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, whose own record on the issue raised concerns among abortion rights advocates.
Whitaker, 49, has been frank about the strength of his religious views. In 2014, as a private attorney in Iowa representing an editor fired for writing homophobic blog posts, Whitaker told a radio interviewer: “We’re all poor, miserable sinners … without a saviour we’re all doomed to eternal damnation.”
Earlier that year, Whitaker said judges needed a “biblical view of justice” and raised doubts about the judgment of non-religious lawyers. In 2007, as US attorney for Iowa’s southern district, Whitaker was ordered by justice department officials in Washington to pull out of a planned appearance hosting an event for the Iowa Christian Alliance.
While seeking the Iowa Republican party’s US Senate nomination in 2014, Whitaker told a group of college students he was “100% pro-life” and supported a bill proposed by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky that would grant constitutional protections to fetuses the moment they were conceived, effectively outlawing abortion. Video footage of the event was viewed by the Guardian.
“I don’t want to criminalize females who find themselves in crisis. But at the same time, I do believe life begins at conception,” Whitaker said at the time.