Thomas, who opposes abortion and is the only black member of the court, faced allegations of sexual harassment from former subordinate Anita Hill, but told CBS News' "60 Minutes" abortion was "the elephant in the room."
"That was the elephant in the room ... That was the issue," he told interviewer Steve Kroft. "That is the issue that people are apparently so upset about," and continues to be the issue "that you determine the composition of your Supreme Court and your entire federal judiciary, it seems now."
Thomas said Hill was not the "demure" person everyone thought she was.
The justice also said the hearings harmed him, Hill and the country as a whole.
"The process harmed her. It harmed me and we see sort of the precedent of this kind of thing begin to harm even people like (former) President (Bill) Clinton," who also was accused of sexual harassment, Thomas said. "Things are out of control."
The TV interview, which CBS says is Thomas' first in which the justice discusses his race, his childhood and his rise to the court, is scheduled to air Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Police: Sword-wielding man demanded free tacos
Campus cop fatally shoots Texas student during traffic stop