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Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: On Charlie Crist, Todd Akin and abortion

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's evolution from Republican to independent to Democrat has led to sharp criticism from Republicans.

Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry tried to link Crist with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri known for his comment that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy.

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."

Crist's stance on abortion throughout his career is too complex to boil down to a sound bite. He has called himself "pro-choice" and "pro-life."

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, Crist wrote in a questionnaire: "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."

In 2006, when he was running for governor, 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. 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 the 2006 campaign, he told a priest that if elected he'd sign an abortion ban similar to South Dakota's, which included an exception only for the life of the mother. But later Crist told the Associated Press that he'd only sign such a ban if it 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.

In 2010, after leaving the Republican Party, Crist vetoed a bill that would have required women seeking abortions to get an ultrasound.

In August 2012, Crist endorsed President Barack Obama in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times and complained about growing Republican extremism.

"Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims," he wrote.

PolitiFact rated Crist's comparison Half True because the GOP platform opposes most abortions, but does not specifically say that it bans abortion for rape victims. Also, there is no Akin amendment.

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.

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.

RPOF also cited a bill that Akin co-sponsored in 2011 — the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. The bill prohibits federal funds from being used for any health benefits that include coverage of abortion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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."

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.

Akin's controversial remarks came 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 and not attacking the child" 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.

Said Crist: "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."

We later emailed Crist 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!"

Because Crist has taken both sides on abortion, it's possible to attack his view and be partially correct — just pick a year and quote. But even RPOF acknowledges Crist's exceptions go beyond the life of the mother to include rape and incest. We rate the claim Mostly False.

The statement

Says Charlie Crist and Missouri Rep. Todd Akin "hold same abortion views. No exception except the life of the mother."

Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, in a Tweet

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly False
Crist has taken both sides on abortion, so it's possible to attack his view and be partially correct. But Curry ignores Crist's words and actions that conflict with Akin's stances. We rate this claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact Florida: On Charlie Crist, Todd Akin and abortion 12/23/12 [Last modified: Sunday, December 23, 2012 8:54pm]
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