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Former Gov. Charlie Crist has done a slew of national television interviews recently promoting his new book, The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat. So it’s only natural that he’s been quizzed on his political evolution.
On Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor on Feb. 4, Bill O’Reilly asked Crist about his changing stance on abortion.
"On abortion, you wanted in the State of Florida to outlaw it, except in rape and incest," O’Reilly said. "But, now, you morphed into, ‘Hey it's a woman's body. She can do what she wants.’ It's a pretty big change."
In response, Crist portrayed himself as being consistent on the topic.
"When I was a young state senator from Tampa Bay -- back in the early ‘90s is when I got elected -- one of the first votes I had as a state senator was on a health care committee. And the bill said you have to have a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion if she is making that decision. As a Republican, back in the ‘90s, I voted against the bill. As a result of my ‘no’ vote it died on a tie vote. So I’ve always been pro-life personally. But in terms of wanting to change the law, what I said in 2006 was ‘I’d rather change hearts than laws’ and that’s still how I feel."
We decided to put Crist’s stances on abortion on our Flip-O-Meter. We’re not passing judgment on whether a change of position is right or wrong; we’re merely documenting whether there actually has been a change of position or not.
We went to the archives to review our earlier fact-checks about Crist’s views on abortion. Overall, we’ve found it hard to label Crist at any point as an abortion rights supporter or an opponent, because he’s been all over the map on the issue. Let’s review the evidence.
Crist as a state legislator
In 1992 when he ran for the state Legislature, Crist said he was "pro-choice" but opposed to state-funded abortion, the Miami Herald reported. Crist won that race.
In 1995, Crist was a Republican state senator from St. Petersburg serving on a Senate health care committee. As he told O’Reilly, Crist joined Democrats in voting against a bill that would have required a 24-hour waiting period for women to obtain an abortion. The 3-3 vote meant that the bill failed.
The Tampa Bay Times reported then that Crist was a supporter of abortion rights:
"I generally don't like the government telling people what to do," Crist said. "I believe in individual rights and freedom. That's why I'm a Republican."
But the next year, the health care committee approved a waiting period bill 5-3, after an amendment offered by Crist to restrict the bill to women younger than 18. News reports at the time said Crist favored abortion rights but wanted minors to be adequately counseled. The bill failed in the House.
In March 1998, then-Sen. Crist voted to override Gov. Lawton Chiles’ veto of a bill banning what opponents call a "partial birth" abortion, a late-term procedure. The House and Senate successfully overrode the veto and that summer the Supreme Court upheld the ban.
When he was running for the U.S. Senate for the first time in 1998, Crist said in a questionnaire for the 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."
When debating his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Bob Graham, Crist was asked if he would support a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
"No, I would not," Crist said. "I think this is a very personal decision. And I think it is a decision that a woman should make and have the right to make after consulting with her family, her physician and her clergy but not her government."
The 2006 governor’s race
In 2006 when he was running for governor, the Times wrote that "On abortion, Crist’s position is a moving target," noting that Crist called himself pro-life. But he didn’t support repealing the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, and he opposed a 24-hour waiting period for abortion. "I don't think that politicians ought to put themselves in the place of physicians, and I think it's very important to respect the medical profession," said Crist, whose father is a doctor.
Also during the 2006 race, he told a priest in Pensacola that he would sign a bill outlawing abortions except when the mother’s life was at stake. But then he told an AP reporter that he would only sign such a bill if it included exceptions for rape and incest.
As Crist and then CFO Tom Gallagher competed for votes in a Republican primary, Crist launched an attack ad calling Gallagher "pro-choice" and referring to himself as "pro-life."
Later, in the general election debate against Democrat Jim Davis, Crist said: "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. "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. . . . I'm pro-life and I'm proud of it, but I don't think that I should impose my will on other people as a result of it."
The 2010 Senate race
In January 2010, Crist’s Republican U.S. Senate campaign released a statement saying he would "fight for pro-life legislative efforts."
In April, as he lagged in a primary against Marco Rubio, Crist left the Republican Party to become a "no party affiliation" candidate.
Weeks later, he 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."
Crist lost the Senate race in 2010 and left the governor’s office in January 2011.
In 2012, Crist endorsed President Barack Obama in an op-ed in the 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.
Crist was exaggerating here. The platform clearly opposed most abortions but was vague on the details. It does not specifically say that it bans abortion for rape victims. Also, there is no official Akin amendment referring to then-Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri who made the "legitimate rape" comment. We rated Crist’s statement Half True.
A few months later, Crist officially signed papers to become a Democrat at a Christmas reception at the White House.
We sent a sample of Crist’s past stances on abortion to his campaign.
"He is pro-life. He’s just not anti-choice," replied Kevin Cate, a paid Crist adviser. "They aren’t mutually exclusive."
Cate argued that Crist has been consistent in that he is "personally pro-life" but believes the government should not interfere with decisions between a woman and her doctor.
In an interview with Watermark, a Central Florida publication that covers the gay community, Crist was asked about his stance on abortion in December:
"It’s confusing because I’m ‘pro-life,’ but by my definition. I’m for life. But I don’t believe the government should tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. That may sound inconsistent… I don’t care. I think we’re all for life, and I don’t like the fact that one side of this issue has taken that term and made it theirs. Because when they say they’re pro-life, what are they saying about those of us who believe in choice… that we’re pro-death?! We’re all pro-life. So I’m pro-life, and I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-life because I’m for life, but I will not impose my will on others."
Our Flip-O-Meter rating
If we look at Crist’s comments and actions on abortion in sum over his career, this much is clear: He has been conflicted about abortion. In fact, we struggled to find a consistent position he's ever held on the matter. Crist has used the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" labels to describe himself at different points in his career, and he now says he is both. There is a kernel of consistency in that he often -- but not always -- talked about being personally "pro-life" but wanting to respect the right of women to make decisions with their doctors.
What is more telling is his stances on particular abortion laws. He has backed restrictions such as a waiting period for minors and a ban on partial birth abortion. But he's also rejected a waiting period for adults and has said he doesn’t want to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Overall, Crist seems to have partially changed position several times, without having any one inflexible position along the way. For this reason, we rate his position on abortion a Half Flip.
O’Reilly Factor, "Charlie Crist enters the ‘No spin zone,’" Feb. 4, 2014
Miami Herald, "The gender factor," Oct. 25, 1992
Marco Rubio campaign, Clip of Charlie Crist in Senate debate, 1998
Tampa Bay Times, "Veto override clears Senate," March 12, 1998
Tampa Bay Times, "The vote stalls abortion counseling measure," April 19, 2005
Tampa Bay Times, "Abortion waiting period clears senate panel," March 29, 2006
Tampa Bay Times, "Crist’s stance on abortion still hazy," Aug. 18, 2006
Miami Herald, "Crist pro-life stance in doubt," Oct. 26, 2006
Tampa Bay Times, "Storm clouds darken for Crist," Jan. 9, 2010
Miami Herald, "Abortion questions plague Crist campaign," Aug. 26, 2012
PolitiFact, "Charlie Crist says GOP platform bans abortion even in cases of rape," Aug. 27, 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, "Charlie Crist says GOP platform bans abortion even in cases of rape,"Aug. 27, 2012
Interview, Kevin Cate, advisor to Charlie Crist’s campaign, Feb. 5, 2014
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