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Charlie Crist's complicated political career — having been a Republican governor before he became a Democratic congressman and his different stances on abortion — has raised questions as the Supreme Court is expected next month to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
On Friday he attempted to clarify by rolling out a proposed executive order barring state agencies from closing safely operating abortion clinics or cooperating with federal officials or other states seeking to prosecute women for having abortions.
Crist cited a right to privacy guaranteed in the Florida Constitution, a right he says Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis have not respected by passing a more restrictive abortion bill this year. That bill reduces the number of weeks, from 24 to 15, from conception when a woman can have an abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
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"That's why I need to win," Crist said. "So that women will have somebody in the Governor's Office that gives a damn about them. And I do."
Earlier in the week, CBS4 News in Miami aired an interview in which reporter Jim DeFede asked Crist what had changed since his stated position on abortion in the 2010 senatorial campaign, when he said he would fight for pro-life legislative efforts.
"Nothing. Nothing," Crist said, noting that he had in his last year as governor vetoed a bill requiring women to pay for an ultrasound prior to getting an abortion "because I thought it was unfairly obtrusive and creating too much difficulty for a woman in that situation."
Crist also noted he has been given a 100% rating by Planned Parenthood during his time in Congress.
At Friday's event he was asked what pro-choice voters should make of a former Republican who had previously described himself as "pro-life."
Crist responded: "Trust me. Trust me. Because you can. … I am the only candidate in this race for governor of Florida who has already vetoed an anti-abortion bill."
Polls show Crist is leading the field of Democrats in the Aug. 23 primary. However, all of the Democratic contenders trail DeSantis, according to RealClear Politics, which tracks and averages poll results nationwide of major races.
'Consistently inconsistent' on abortion
POLITIFACT Florida, which researches and verifies statements by political candidates and public officials, gave Crist a “false” rating when he was interviewed about his stance on abortion and LGBTQ+ issues last month on a West Palm Beach TV station.
“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,” reported POLITIFACT in making its ruling.
One of Crist's chief rivals, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, has attacked Crist for his previous position. She continued that assault in a prepared statement on Friday.
"The only thing Charlie Crist could announce today that would help women is a time machine. That way he could stop himself before he nominated an anti-choice extremist to the bench," Fried said.
As governor in 2008, Crist appointed as a Florida Supreme Court justice Charles Canady, a former state lawmaker and congressman known for having coined the term "partial-birth abortion."
Fried characterized Crist's latest announcement as part of a pattern.
"Otherwise, this is more of the same we’ve seen from Charlie Crist’s lifetime career of saying what’s politically convenient to stay in power," Fried said. "Women will always have a choice. And women won’t choose the pro-life career politician that fueled the attack on Roe v. Wade."
Former Planned Parenthood officials support Crist plan
Crist, though, has backers within the Democratic caucus. Barbara Zdravecky, a former Planned Parenthood CEO for Southwest and Central Florida, endorsed him on Thursday.
And Crist appeared at his news conference with state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an outspoken Democratic lawmaker from Orlando.
Under a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the precedent set in Roe v. Wade would be overturned, allowing states to make their own laws about abortion.
Under that scenario, Eskamani said, the state becomes a firewall for abortion rights under the Constitutional provision for privacy.
"To have a governor who has a plan, who's made a commitment to put into place on Day 1 an executive order to not only solidify the protections established under Roe v. Wade, but to ensure that we will not collaborate with other states who want to criminalize people and their doctors for making a personal decision," Eskamani said.
She said setting that "line in the sand" will ensure freedom for women, as has his voting record in Congress.
"For me as a state lawmaker, it's incredibly important to have gubernatorial candidates who outline a plan to do this work versus just rhetoric," she said. "But I also want to add as someone who worked at Planned Parenthood for six years before I ran for office and as a Planned Parenthood patient myself, that if we strip away these rights it is not just a health care issue. It is an economic issue."
Eskamani said her mother died when she was 13 years old.
"I had no one to talk to about reproductive health, about dating about intimate partner violence, about healthy relationships when I had only abstinence education in my school I was set up for failure."
Visiting a Planned Parenthood office at age 18 was pivotal, she said.
"I felt like I had power and I had control over wanting to become a parent, over my academic success and eventually my personal and professional careers," Eskamani said. "Without those resources, we are setting back little girls for generations and I refuse to let that happen. Abortion is not just about reproductive freedom, it is about having the power to decide your destiny and it is tied to every other right that we hold dear."
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This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Governor hopeful Charlie Crist offers abortion-rights executive order