Crist says he ‘always’ supported abortion access, but his record shows inconsistency

PolitiFact | Crist’s view on abortion has changed throughout his decades in Florida politics, much like his party affiliation.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., is running for governor of Florida.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., is running for governor of Florida. [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]
Published April 27, 2022

The political career of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic candidate for Florida governor, spans three decades, three party affiliations and multiple positions on sensitive issues.

On April 12, Shannon Cake of WPTV in West Palm Beach quizzed Crist on his political evolution, specifically where he currently stood on LGBTQ rights and abortion.

While Crist readily admitted that he had changed his position on gay marriage, he said his stance on whether women should have the right to obtain an abortion hadn’t changed.

Related: Now a Democrat, Charlie Crist regrets signing anti-gay marriage petition

“I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I always have,” Crist said. “I am still pro-life — meaning I am for life. I hope most people are, and I think it’s important to understand the distinction.”

Cake pushed back at his use of “pro-life,” because it doesn’t precisely describe the political discourse surrounding abortion. Crist maintained that he was “for life” and also supported women’s right to choose.

PolitiFact has fact-checked claims related to Crist’s view on abortion more than five times. It’s difficult to condense to a sound bite.

Crist’s stance has been consistently inconsistent. He’s called himself both “pro-life” and “pro-choice” throughout his career, defining them on his own terms.

As a raft of new abortion laws take hold in Republican-led states across the U.S. — including Florida — we wanted to take a fresh look at Crist’s record.

Let’s examine the evidence.

Crist was ‘pro-choice’ at the start of his career

When Crist arrived on Florida’s political scene in 1992 — then a Republican from St. Petersburg, running for the state Legislature — his stance on abortion was less murky: the decision should rest with women, not the government.

Crist told the Miami Herald that he did not support state-funded abortion.

Such rhetoric reappeared throughout much of his early career in the Florida Senate. In 1995, Crist broke from party lines to vote down a measure that would have imposed a 24-hour waiting period for women to obtain an abortion.

At the time, Crist argued that his position fell in line with Republican tendencies to favor small government involvement. As he began to eye a national office, his support for abortion rights grew more conditional.

In March 1998, Crist expressed opposition to late-term abortion and voted with the Senate to override former Gov. Lawton Chiles’ veto of a bill aimed at prohibiting the procedure.

Later, in a bid for a U.S. Senate in 1998, Crist wrote in a questionnaire for the Tampa Bay Times that he was “pro-choice, but not pro-abortion.” Thus began the argument that though he didn’t personally favor the procedure, he didn’t aim to strike it down.

This position was further cemented when Crist said he wouldn’t back a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion. He lost that race.

Charlie Crist declares another run for Florida governor during a rally in St. Petersburg on May 4, 2021. This will be Crist’s second attempt at winning back the job he held from 2007 to 2011, when he was a Republican.
Charlie Crist declares another run for Florida governor during a rally in St. Petersburg on May 4, 2021. This will be Crist’s second attempt at winning back the job he held from 2007 to 2011, when he was a Republican. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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Crist re-cast himself as ‘pro-life’ in the 2006 gubernatorial race

As he geared up to run for Florida governor in 2006, Crist re-cast himself more simply as “pro-life.”

During the Republican primary, one of Crist’s opponents cast doubt on his position on abortion, releasing a campaign ad that labeled him “pro-choice.” Crist’s campaign called it false and fired back with an ad that claimed Crist was “pro-life.”

Still, Crist’s remarks on abortion continued to puzzle “activists on both sides of the abortion debate,” according to the Miami Herald.

On the one hand, he publicly expressed opposition to the procedure. On the other, he said he wouldn’t support repealing the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, that made it legal.

In 2006, Crist routinely said politicians shouldn’t put “themselves in the place of physicians.” However, during that campaign, Crist also told a priest he would sign a bill prohibiting abortions except when the mother’s life was at stake.

Crist won the Republican nomination and became governor of Florida for four years. His bid for the U.S. Senate introduced more flexibility on abortion.

In the 2010 Republican U.S. Senate primary, Crist’s campaign released a statement that he would “fight for pro-life legislative efforts.” When his primary chances soured, Crist left the Republican Party and continued an unsuccessful run for the Senate seat with no party affiliation.

Before he left the governor’s office, Crist vetoed legislation that would have required women to get an ultrasound before opting to have an abortion, saying he found it “punitive.”

Crist’s position on abortion becomes more clear after 2012

Out of office in 2012, Crist endorsed former President Barack Obama for reelection in an op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times and complained about the Republican Party pitching “so far to the extreme right on issues important to women.”

A few months later, Crist officially signed papers to become a Democrat for an unsuccessful bid for governor against Republican Rick Scott.

On the now-defunct website for his 2014 campaign, Crist stated: “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. Charlie believes that government should stay out of personal health decisions between a woman and her doctor.”

Recently, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Crist denounced the move, using a similar rationale.

Related: DeSantis just signed a 15-week abortion ban. Here are 3 things that come next.

Crist’s campaign also pointed to his congressional record. In 2017, Crist voted against legislation that aimed to prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

He also voted against efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides health care services, including abortion.

Crist is one of multiple Democrats running in the Aug. 23 primary for governor. The winner will face DeSantis in November.

Our ruling

Crist said in a TV interview that he has “always” believed “in a woman’s right to choose.”

That’s wrong. It’s difficult to summarize Crist’s views on abortion over three decades in a nutshell, because he has expressed conflicting statements. But he has made some statements that went against the choice to have an abortion, including in 2006 when Crist told a priest that he would sign a bill prohibiting abortion except when the mother’s life was at stake. In 2010 his campaign said in a statement that Crist would “fight for pro-life legislative efforts.”

There are other times when Crist made statements in favor of abortion access, such as when he said he would not be in favor of repealing Roe v. Wade. But on the whole, he takes it too far when he says he “always” supported a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

We rate this statement False.

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.