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Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s evolution from Republican to independent to Democrat has prompted speculation that he will take on Republican Gov. Rick Scott -- and led to sharp criticism from Florida Republicans.
After CNN's Soledad O’Brien interviewed Crist on Dec. 12, 2012, RPOF chairman Lenny Curry took to Twitter to keep up the attacks on Crist. He tweeted: "Crist has a record of being rigid on guns, gays, marriage and abortion. He is making an indecent proposal to Dems."
Curry also tried to link Crist with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri famous for his comment during his 2012 U.S. Senate bid that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy. Akin apologized for his comment and lost the election. Akin was a longtime supporter of bills that were backed by abortion opponents. He's now so famous that he is a point of reference for abortion rights.
Curry tweeted about Crist: "BTW, he holds the same position as Akin on abortion."
He later tweeted: "Answer: Todd Akin & @charliecristfl hold same abortion views. No exception except the life of the mother. Google it. Its all there."
Democratic consultant Kevin Cate tweeted "I’ll let @politifact sort it out...."
Okay, we will.
We’ve fact-checked many claims about Crist and abortion -- and several about Akin and abortion. But here we wanted to check to see if Curry was correct to claim that Akin and Crist hold identical positions on abortion, that they are opposed except when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.
It is somewhat difficult to compare the views held by Akin, a member of Congress, to Crist, a former governor, because they didn’t have to act on the same pieces of legislation. But we can compare their comments and their actions on some bills.
Crist’s views on abortion
Crist’s stance on abortion throughout his career is too complex to boil down to a sound bite -- even though Crist tried to do that himself at times. He has called himself "pro-choice" and "pro-life."
Long before he ditched the Republican Party, he was accused of changing his stance on abortion depending on his political race. We will borrow in part from previous fact-checks to explain Crist’s views.
In 1992 when he was running for the state Legislature, the Miami Herald wrote that Crist said he was "pro-choice" but opposed state-funded abortion.
When he was running for the U.S. Senate in 1998 against Democrat Bob Graham, Crist wrote in a questionnaire for the Tampa Bay Times: "I am pro-choice, but not pro-abortion. I believe that a woman has the right to choose, but would prefer only after careful consideration and consultation with her family, her physician and her clergy; not her government."
Crist said during that campaign that he would not support a constitutional ban on abortion.
In 2006, when he was running for governor, Crist’s comments about abortion "puzzled activists on both sides of the abortion debate," the Miami Herald wrote after one TV forum.
''I'm pro-life on this issue, but I also understand that it's very important to respect the views of others, and I do,'' Crist said during that forum. "I don't think it's important to change the law. What I do believe is important is that we change hearts and not the law."
During his 2006 campaign, he told a priest that if elected he’d sign an abortion ban similar to South Dakota’s which only included an exception for the life of the mother. But later Crist told an Associated Press reporter that he’d only sign such a ban if it also included exceptions for rape and incest.
He repeated that summary of his views -- only accepting a ban that included exceptions for life of the mother, rape and incest -- at other times that year.
Crist also said he would not support repealing Roe vs. Wade.
When asked during his 2006 campaign about his opposition as a state senator to a 24-hour waiting period, he said the bill didn’t include an exception for medical emergencies.
"There may have been a life-threatening situation that necessitates the procedure," he said. "That happens."
While RPOF mailers defended Crist as a clear opponent of abortion, the Democrats issued press releases headlined, 'Criss-Crossin' Charlie's House of Waffles.''
In 2010, after leaving the Republican Party, Crist vetoed a bill that would have required women seeking abortions to get an ultrasound. He said he found the requirement that women pay for the procedure "punitive" and that the measure was "almost mean spirited."
On the eve of the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August 2012, Crist endorsed President Barack Obama in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times and complained about growing Republican extremism, including on women’s issues.
"Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims," Crist wrote.
We gave Crist’s GOP-Akin comparison a Half True because the GOP platform clearly opposes most abortions but is vague on the detail and does not specifically say that it bans abortion for rape victims. Also, there is no official Akin amendment -- he didn’t play a role in drafting the platform language.
RPOF spokesman Brian Burgess told PolitiFact Florida in an email that "Crist is pro-life but allows exceptions for rape, incest and health of the mother." However, Curry only cited one in that tweet: life of the mother.
Burgess backed up the claim by citing a 2006 interview of Crist, who was attorney general at the time, when he said that he would sign an abortion ban similar to South Dakota’s, which only allowed abortion to save a woman’s life. But Crist also said that South Dakota law was too restrictive and would only sign such a ban if it allowed abortions for victims of rape and incest.
As for Akin, Burgess pointed to a couple of bills that he either co-sponsored or voted for that sought to ban funding for abortions but allowed for exceptions including victims of rape and incest.
On Nov. 7, 2009, the House voted 240-194 with Akin in the majority for House Amendment 509 to H.R. 3962, a Medicare and pension bill, to prohibit federal funds for abortion services in the public option and prohibits individuals who receive affordability credits from purchasing a plan that provides elective abortions. The amendment said that it would include exceptions for the life of the mother, rape or incest.
RPOF also cited a bill that Akin co-sponsored in 2011 -- the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Akin was one of 227 sponsors of the bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.
The bill prohibits federal funds from being used for any health benefits that include coverage of abortion, according to the Congressional Research Service. (Currently, federal funds cannot be used for abortion services and plans receiving federal funds must keep federal funds segregated from any funds for abortion services, the research summary stated.)
The final version of the bill said such funding was permissible if "(1) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or (2) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself."
The bill passed the house 251-175 in May 2011 and hasn’t had a vote in the Senate.
Akin was consistent abortion opponent
So it’s true that Akin supported a couple of abortion bills that contained exceptions. But those votes don’t paint a full portrait of Akin’s stance on abortion.
Akin, a former Missouri Right to Life board member, has more than a two-decade record on abortion starting with his arrests in the 1980s at anti-abortion protests and history in the Missouri General Assembly where he was first elected in 1988. Over the years, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would call Akin a "Republican anti-abortion leader" and "abortion foe" and "long a staunch opponent of abortion rights."
In the state’s General Assembly, Akin fought against what abortion opponents call "partial birth abortions" and funding for Planned Parenthood.
The National Right to Life Committee says Akin supported the group's position on 59 of its 60 key votes. NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Akin a score of zero in its 2011 scorecard.
In July 2012, the Post-Dispatch wrote that Akin and his GOP Senate primary opponents were all "staunchly anti-abortion but with some nuances in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is endangered."
"There are some extreme medical conditions where the lives of both mother and child are at risk, in these situations he supports the doctors and patients making a decision that maximizes life," said Akin's campaign.
A month later, he seemed to take a harder line against abortion and was less supportive of exceptions.
Akin's controversial remarks came in a televised interview in August, when he said: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."
Akin apologized several times, but largely to say that he was wrong about his medical claim or used the wrong words -- not to walk back his implication that there shouldn’t be a rape exception.
The Post-Dispatch wrote that Akin didn’t back down on his no-exceptions opposition:
"Rape is a terrible, horrible tragedy," Akin said, when asked in a St. Louis radio interview whether he believes "morning-after" medications should be outlawed even for rape victims. "At the same time, I don't know that you fix one tragedy with another tragedy."
Crist’s comments about Curry claim
Crist spoke to us briefly about Curry’s claim.
"I don’t even know Mr. Akin’s position except that it sounded pretty wacky during the campaign and inappropriate. ... The things Todd Akin said about this issue are pretty outrageous and has nothing to do with anything I believe."
Crist spoke in generalities about his abortion stance: "I am pro-life but I would not impose my will on others," he said, and then referenced the bill he vetoed in 2010 that would have required women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion.
Crist also repeated a line he used in 2006 when asked by a reporter about his pro-life stance and what laws he would change:
"I said I wouldn’t change any -- I’d rather change hearts than laws. This has been my position for quite some time."
We later emailed Crist again to ask "did you ever -- or do you now -- support no exceptions except life of the mother?"
Crist dashed off a quick response to Curry’s claim: "Completely wrong. He doesn't speak for me!"
Since Crist has taken both sides on abortion, it is possible to attack his view and be partially correct -- just pick a year, race and quote that matches the attack.
In this case, Curry said, "Todd Akin & @charliecristfl hold same abortion views. No exception except the life of the mother."
But even RPOF acknowledges that Crist's exceptions go beyond the life of the mother to include rape and incest. And RPOF ignores Crist’s words and actions that would conflict with Akin’s stances -- such as when Crist called himself "pro-choice."
We rate this claim Mostly False.
Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry, Tweetand tweet, Dec. 12, 2012
Democratic consultant Kevin Cate, Tweet, Dec. 12, 2012
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin press release, H.R. 3590 Abortion funding, March 15, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, "Now a Democrat, Charlie Crist regrets signing anti-gay marriage petition,"Dec. 14, 2012
Tampa Bay Times, "Crist’s stance on abortion still hazy," Accessed in Nexis, Aug. 18, 2006
Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog, "Crist attends White House Christmas party, registers officially as a Democrat,"Dec. 7, 2012
PolitiFact, "Charlie Crist was pro-life, pro-gun and anti-tax, says George LeMieux,"Sept. 6, 2012
PolitiFact, "Marco Rubio fires back at Charlie Crist attacks,"Oct. 24, 2010
PolitiFact, "Taxpayer funded abortions in the health care bill?"March 17, 2011
PolitiFact, "Charlie Crist says GOP platform bans abortion even in cases of rape,"Aug. 27, 2012
PolitiFact,"Paul Ryan and Todd Akin co-sponsored bill limiting federal funding for abortions to victims of ‘forcible rape,’ New Jersey Democratic leader says,"Aug. 22, 2012
YouTube, Interview clip of Charlie Crist, 1998 campaign
Tampa Bay Times, "Former Gov. Charlie Crist: Here is why I am backing Barack Obama," Aug. 26, 2012
WTSP.com,"Charlie Crist would sign abortion ban, discusses adoption proposal,"March 23, 2006
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "3 in GOP running in near lockstep," Accessed in Nexis, July 17, 2012
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Foes of abortion forecast a fight," Accessed in Nexis, Jan. 22, 2003
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "‘Final blow’ spurs anti-abortion action," Accessed in Nexis, May 13, 1997
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YouTube, Clip of Jaco Report interview with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, Aug. 19, 2012
CBS, "In new TV ad, Akin apologizes for rape comment, again,"Aug. 21, 2012
New York Times, "Rep. Todd Akin: The statement and the reaction," Aug. 20, 2012
NPR, "In Akin’s wake, Ryan defends anti-abortion record,"Aug. 24, 2012
Sarasota Herald Tribune, Notebook, Accessed in Nexis, Aug. 28, 2012
MSNBC, Interview with Republican Party of Florida Lenny Curry, Sept. 6, 2012
Tampa Bay Times, "Crist stance on abortion still hazy," Aug. 18, 2006
Miami Herald, "The gender factor," Accessed in Nexis Oct. 25, 2002
Miami Herald, "Abortion questions plague Crist campaign," Accessed in Nexis, Aug. 26, 2012
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin press release, ‘"Akin says court’s ruling on partial birth abortion shows contempt for common decency,’" June 1, 2004
U.S. Library of Congress, H.R. 3962House Amendment 509, House vote Nov. 7, 2009
Congressional Record, Rep. Bart Stupak amendment, Nov. 7, 2009
U.S. Library of Congress, H.R. 3, House vote May 4, 2011
Project VoteSmart, House Amendment 509, Nov. 7, 2009
National Right to Life, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, Accessed Dec. 17, 2012
NARAL Pro-Choice America, Rep. Todd Akin, Accessed Dec. 17, 2012
Todd Akin U.S. Senate campaign, "Life,"2012
Fox News, "Jaco report: Full interview with Todd Akin,"Aug. 19, 2012
Miami Herald, "Foes have taken both sides on abortion," Accessed in Nexis, Aug. 18, 2006
Miami Herald, "Crist pro-life stance in doubt," Accessed in Nexis, Oct. 26, 2006
Tampa Tribune, "Rivals rip Crist’s abortion stand," Accessed in Nexis, March 24, 2006
Interview, Brian Burgess, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Dec. 17, 2012
Interview, Kevin Cate, president of Cate Communications, Dec. 17, 2012
Interview, John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, Dec. 18, 2012
Interview, former Gov. Charlie Crist, Dec. 17, 2012
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