Fact check: DeSantis falsely claims ‘no pro-lifer has ever argued’ to jail a woman for getting an abortion

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis falsely claimed last week that “no pro-lifer has ever argued” that a woman should be jailed for getting an abortion.

DeSantis made the claim while criticizing a rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations. DeSantis and Haley have sparred more frequently in recent weeks as they have battled to become the top alternative to former President Donald Trump, who holds a big lead in opinion polls of the party primary.

At a Thursday event at Winthrop College in South Carolina, DeSantis was asked if he took exception to anything Haley has been advocating on abortion-related policy, such as banning “late-term” abortions, encouraging adoptions, ensuring access to contraception and making sure women are not jailed for having an abortion.

DeSantis scoffed at Haley’s comments about preventing women from being jailed.

“Well, look, I mean, of course you’re not going to jail a woman. No pro-lifer has ever argued for that,” DeSantis said in remarks his campaign subsequently posted on social media.

DeSantis continued, “So when she’s saying that, she’s indulging media narratives. That’s a narrative; that’s not how it is. We have a heartbeat bill in Florida; has nothing to do with putting a woman – it’s ridiculous that that would even be mentioned. So I think she’s playing in to some of the stereotypes that the left uses against conservatives. Don’t accept the media narrative.”

Facts First: DeSantis’ claim that “no pro-lifer has ever argued” to jail women for getting an abortion is not true. Some opponents of abortion rights, including a group of party lawmakers in the South Carolina state House this year, have pushed for the passage of laws that would treat women who get abortions as murderers and subject them to the possibility of decades in prison.

DeSantis could have fairly said that the most prominent US anti-abortion groups have expressed opposition to the idea of jailing women for getting an abortion. But the idea is supported by some hard-line anti-abortion groups and at least a smattering of Republican state lawmakers around the country. So it’s not true that “no pro-lifer has ever” called for such penalties or that Haley or the media conjured up this notion from thin air.

The DeSantis campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Proposals in South Carolina and elsewhere

Earlier this year, some Republican members of the South Carolina state House announced their support for a bill, the South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act, that would have treated abortion as homicide and allowed the person who got the abortion to be punished as a murderer – and subjected to the state’s usual sentences for murder, ranging from 30 years in prison to the death penalty.

The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston reported that the bill had as many as 24 Republican cosponsors at its peak. The bill never came close to becoming law – the number of cosponsors fell sharply after a backlash – but it was nonetheless a real proposal backed by some of the party’s elected officials.

Broadly similar bills have also been introduced by Republican legislators in other states, products of an anti-abortion “abolitionist” movement that lies outside the mainstream of the anti-abortion movement but that has grown in prominence this decade.

In a 2022 story on the movement, CNN’s Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken reported on a Republican bill introduced in the Louisiana state House that year that would have allowed murder charges against women who received abortions. Their article noted that more than a dozen states had seen the introduction of “abolition” bills that would allow women who got abortions to be punished as criminals.

“It is false that no-anti abortion advocate has argued for incarcerating people for their abortion,” Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel and legal director at If/When/How, an organization that supports abortion rights, said in an email last week. Citing the Louisiana proposal, Diaz-Tello said, “This policy effort was the brainchild of the anti-abortion faction that has gained supporters and momentum over the last five years. This group’s primary platform focuses on the idea that abortion is murder and anyone involved, including the person who had the abortion, should be held criminally liable. “

Diaz-Tello also noted that during Haley’s governorship of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, South Carolina had a decades-old law on the books that allowed a maximum penalty of two years in prison for the crime of self-administering an abortion, such as by ordering abortion medication. The law was little-known and rarely enforced.

The Florida law

When DeSantis spoke of having “a heartbeat bill in Florida” that he said has nothing to do with jailing women, he appeared to be referring to a bill he signed into law earlier this year, called the Heartbeat Protection Act, that would ban most abortions in Florida after the six-week mark of pregnancy. (The law hasn’t taken effect because the state Supreme Court hasn’t yet ruled on a challenge to the state’s existing 15-week ban.)

Journalist Norah O’Donnell of CBS asked DeSantis last month about a provision in the new six-week ban that says a felony has been committed by “any person who performs, or actively participates in, a termination of pregnancy” in violation of the requirements of that section of the law.

The section in question is focused on physicians, and DeSantis argued that reading the law makes it clear that the criminal penalties apply only to medical practitioners and not at all to the women who get abortions. Florida Democrats have argued that the law’s “actively participates in” language is so broad that it could potentially be interpreted as also applying to the women who get abortions or even to people who help transport them to their appointments.

For the purpose of this fact check, a verdict on the meaning of the Florida statute isn’t necessary. DeSantis was wrong regardless in categorically declaring that “no pro-lifer,” period, has called for jailing women for getting abortions.

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