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Politifact FL: Fact-checking Biden's claims on abortion during his Tampa stop

President Joe Biden speaks about reproductive freedom during an organizing event Tuesday, April 23, 2024, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. Biden is in Florida planning to assail the state's upcoming six-week abortion ban and similar restrictions nationwide. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Manuel Balce Ceneta
President Joe Biden speaks during an organizing event Tuesday, April 23, 2024, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

During a campaign event, President Joe Biden warned of "extreme" laws that restrict abortion access and blamed Donald Trump. Some of Biden's statements left out context.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

Eight days before a six-week abortion ban takes effect in Florida, President Joe Biden spoke in Tampa to lay blame for restrictive measures nationwide on one person: former President Donald Trump.

In a 12-minute address Tuesday at Hillsborough Community College, Biden warned of "extreme" laws that restrict abortion access, and he blamed Trump, his predecessor and presumptive 2024 rival, for making those policies possible.

Biden criticized Trump for bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade and paving the way for states to enact strict limits on abortion. Using that new power, Biden said, Arizona reinstated an 1864 total abortion ban and Florida instituted a six-week ban.

Biden and his running mate, Vice President Kamala Harris, in recent days have made abortion key to their campaign message. Biden shouted his remarks at times, but some of his statements left out context.

Biden’s address comes as Florida voters are set to decide whether to expand abortion rights in a high-stakes abortion measure on the November ballot.

Polls show that six-week abortion bans are unpopular nationally and in Florida. For bans later in pregnancy, around 16 weeks, polling results are inconsistent. A national KFF poll from February 2024 found that 58% opposed federal ban on abortion at 16 weeks while 42% said they would support one. But an Economist/YouGov poll the same month found the opposite: 48% favoring a 16-week ban, 36% opposed and 16% not sure. Polling also shows wide support for first-trimester abortions, but far less for second-trimester abortions.

Here are fact-checks of four things Biden said in Tampa.

"Don’t think (Trump) is not making a deal right now with MAGA extremists to ban abortion nationwide in every state, because he’s making it."

Although we can’t know what goes on in private, Biden’s claim conflicts with Trump’s most recent public comments on abortion.

On April 8, Trump released a video on his abortion position and later told reporters that he wouldn’t sign a nationwide ban if it came to his desk.

In his video, Trump boasted about appointing three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that federally protected abortion access. Trump also said he thought that abortion regulation should be left to the states, and that he supports exceptions for rape, incest and the pregnant woman’s life.

On the campaign trail, Trump has criticized some of the stricter abortion bans. He called Florida’s six-week law poised to take effect this Wednesday "a terrible mistake." And he agreed that Arizona’s newly resurrected 1864 total abortion ban went too far.

Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Trump expressed more support for a federal abortion ban.

In 1999, Trump described himself as "pro-choice." He adopted an anti-abortion stance around 2011, when he told a conservative committee that he was "pro-life."

When Trump was president in 2017, he endorsed a 20-week national abortion ban that failed to pass.

In February, The New York Times reported that Trump floated a 16-week nationwide abortion ban in private discussions. In March, Trump indicated in a radio interview that he would back a 15-week ban.

Trump surrogates have discussed other executive actions Trump could use once in office, such as enforcing the Comstock Act — a 19th century law that bans the mailing of "obscene" material — that could outlaw abortion across the country by prohibiting sending materials such as medication and surgical equipment that could be used in abortions. Project 2025, a policy platform by a coalition of Trump-aligned groups for a second potential Trump presidency, also referred to the law in its online agenda.

Trump hasn’t said he would enforce the law this way, but he hasn’t disavowed it either.

Trump "said, ‘There has to be punishment for women exercising their reproductive freedom.’" 

This is misleading. In 2023, we rated a similar statement by Biden as Mostly False.

Trump made a comment about punishing women in 2016 but quickly walked it back.

During a March 2016 MSNBC town hall, an audience member asked Trump about his stance on women’s rights in reproductive health decisions. Trump said he was "pro-life," with exceptions, but gave no further details. In a back-and-forth, host Chris Matthews asked Trump about legal penalties:

Matthews: "Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no, as a principle?"

Trump: "The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment."

Matthews: "For the woman?"

Trump: "Yeah, there has to be some form."

But Trump retracted the comment that same day after pro- and anti-abortion activists roundly criticized him. He issued a statement that said he meant that physicians should be held legally responsible, not women. It said:

"If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb."

The next day, Trump told "Fox & Friends" hosts, "If, in fact, abortion was outlawed, the person performing the abortion, the doctor or whoever it may be that is really doing the act is responsible for the act, not the woman, is responsible."

"And today, MAGA Republicans refused to repeal that (1864) ban in Arizona. Trump has literally taken us back 160 years."

This leaves out that Trump has criticized Arizona’s recent legal action affecting abortion access.

On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of bringing back a Civil War-era law that would ban all abortions except when a pregnant woman's life is endangered. Under the law, abortion providers could face two to five years in prison. Barring other legal or legislative action, the abortion measure could take effect as early as June.

The law is part of Arizona’s Howell Code, nearly 500 pages of laws that governed the Arizona territory before the state’s official 1912 establishment. The Arizona court concluded that "absent the federal constitutional abortion right" the 1864 law is enforceable.

Following the court’s ruling, the Republican-led Arizona House blocked efforts to move forward on a repeal of the 1864 law, but a repeal proposal passedWednesday. If the Senate approves the bill, Arizona would allow abortions up to 15 weeks.

Trump took credit for overturning that federal right, but following the Arizona ruling, Trump said April 10, "It's all about state's rights, and that'll be straightened out. I'm sure that the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back into reason and that'll be taken care of, I think, very quickly."

Trump was more specific on Truth Social two days later, stating that the Arizona court "went too far on their Abortion Ruling, enacting and approving an inappropriate Law from 1864." He called on Arizona lawmakers to "remedy what has happened" and called for exceptions for rape, incest and the pregnant woman’s life.

"One in three women throughout the United States of America" live in a state with an abortion ban at six weeks or sooner.

This is accurate. At six weeks, most women don’t yet know they are pregnant and haven’t had a chance to see a doctor. And the number of women in that statistic is poised to grow when Florida’s six-week abortion ban takes effect May 1.

If the 1864 Arizona law takes effect, it would ban all abortions except when a pregnant woman's life is in danger. Barring other legal or legislative action, the abortion measure could be instated as early as June, Axios reported.

Excluding Florida and Arizona, about 21.5 million women and girls of reproductive age currently live in states that ban abortions completely, or after six weeks of pregnancy, U.S. Census data shows. That’s about 29% of women ages 15 to 49.

When adding in states that ban abortion after 12 or 15 weeks of pregnancy, the number of affected women grows to about 25 million, or about 40%.


Copyright 2024 WLRN. To see more, visit WLRN.

Matthew Crowley
Louis Jacobson | PolitiFact
Samantha Putterman | PolitiFact
Amy Sherman | PolitiFact