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PolitiFact Florida: Crist's abortion stance has been hard to pin down

Former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is currently the leading Democrat trying to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott, says his record on abortion has been consistent.

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Former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is currently the leading Democrat trying to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott, says his record on abortion has been consistent.

Charlie Crist has been attacked for flip-flopping on an array of issues, but there's one topic he says he has been consistent on: abortion.

Crist made his case in a TV interview on April 20 with Michael Williams of WPTV West Palm Beach. Williams began his questions on the topic by saying that Crist had once called himself "prolife" but has now changed his views.

Crist: "That's not true. No. I am prolife — by my definition."

Williams: "But you changed your mind on abortion restrictions in the state of Florida. That's a matter of record. … "

Crist: "I am prolife. And what I mean by that is I am for life. I think most of us are for life. And I think that's very important to state because even though I am prolife, which I mean for life, (it) doesn't mean that I want to tell a woman what to do with her body, and I never have. Even as a Republican governor I vetoed the ultrasound bill on women … "

Has Crist changed his view on abortion restrictions?

PolitiFact Florida has been tracking Crist's views on abortion for some time. Overall, he's been all over the map, calling himself both "prochoice" and "prolife."

In 1992, when he ran for the state Legislature, Crist said he was "prochoice" but opposed state-funded abortion. Crist won.

In 1995, Crist was a Republican state senator from St. Petersburg serving on a health care committee. As he mentioned in the TV interview, Crist voted 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. "I generally don't like the government telling people what to do," Crist said.

But in 1996, the health care committee approved a waiting period bill on a 5-3 vote, 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, Crist took a position against abortion when he voted to override Gov. Lawton Chiles' veto of a bill that banned what opponents call a "partial birth" abortion, a late-term procedure. The House and Senate successfully overrode the veto.

When he was running for the U.S. Senate in 1998, Crist said in a questionnaire: "I am prochoice, but not proabortion. 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."

During Crist's 2006 race for governor he again reiterated, "I don't think that politicians ought to put themselves in the place of physicians."

However, he also 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 Associated Press reporter that he would sign such a bill only if it included exceptions for rape and incest.

As Crist and then chief financial officer Tom Gallagher competed in a Republican primary, Crist launched an attack ad calling Gallagher "prochoice" and referring to himself as "prolife."

Later, in the general election debate against Democrat Jim Davis, Crist said: "I'm prolife 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."

In January 2010, Crist's Republican U.S. Senate campaign released a statement saying he would "fight for prolife legislative efforts."

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 "almost mean-spirited."

Crist lost the Senate race and left the governor's office in January 2011. In November 2013, he announced he would challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott as a Democrat.

On his campaign website, Crist states: "Charlie supports a woman's right to make her own health care decisions — as governor, he vetoed a measure that required women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, a law that Rick Scott signed."

So where does that leave us?

Crist said he hasn't changed his view on abortion restrictions, but we find that misleading — unless you're talking about having views that have always been difficult to pin down.

Crist has called himself both "prolife" and "prochoice," and he seems comfortable offering up his own personal definitions of the terms.

If he's shown a kernel of consistency, it's that he often — but not always — talked about being personally "prolife" but wanting to respect the right of women to make decisions with their doctors and without government interference.

On balance, we rate his claim Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

Says he hasn't changed his view on abortion restrictions.

Charlie Crist, April 20 in a TV interview

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Mostly False
This is not a case of a politician changing his stance after switching parties. Crist has always been all over the map on abortion. We rate his claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact Florida: Crist's abortion stance has been hard to pin down 04/27/14 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2014 10:36pm]

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