Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) has spent the last few weeks amid a flurry of controversy over an alleged donation he made to Planned Parenthood in the 1990s. But the governor’s record on reproductive health is getting lost amongst the chaos.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) created one of the most talked-about and fact-checked moments of last week’s Republican debate when, in order to question the candidate’s conservative credentials, he accused rival Chris Christie of making a donation to Planned Parenthood.
Christie flatly denied the claim, countering that he “never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood.”
And it wasn’t the first time a donation to the reproductive health organization made by Christie had been called into question. During an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation a week before the debate, Christie was asked by host Josh Dickerson about his donation to Planned Parenthood after Rubio made the same charge while speaking at a rally in New Hampshire.
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“Well, I never donated to Planned Parenthood. So, that’s wrong,” Christie quickly asserted.
Rubio’s allegation was likely based on a quote from Christie in a 1994 report on the Morris County freeholder race that ran in New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, in which the then-candidate voiced his support for Planned Parenthood:
“I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations,” said GOP freeholder candidate Chris Christie.
“It’s also no secret that I am pro-choice … But you have to examine all the agencies needing county donations and prioritize them. I would consider all groups looking for funding, but there is a limit and we have to pick and choose,” he added.
Christie has since denied that the conversation took place as reported. “I never donated to Planned Parenthood,” Christie asserted when asked about the donation during an interview with the Washington Post a few days before the debate.
“Listen, this is a quote from 21 years ago,” Christie continued. “I’m convinced it was a misquote. Understand what was going on. In 1994-95, I was fighting against county funding of Planned Parenthood even though I was pro-choice.”
According to the Post, Christie insisted that at the time of the Star-Ledger interview, he was talking generally about donating to causes, not specifically saying that he had donated to Planned Parenthood.
As fate would have it, that same reporter Christie claims to have misquoted him, Brian T. Murray, is now one of the governor’s current spokespeople. Murray has yet to respond to Christie’s allegations, according to NJ.com.
We will likely never know for sure whether Christie actually made the donation to Planned Parenthood—a representative from the organization told the Washington Post that it does not disclose donations—but a definitive answer to the question seems besides the point.
Chris Christie doesn’t need to tell us whether or not he has flip-flopped on reproductive rights: His record speaks for itself.
In the early 1990s, when the Star-Ledger interview allegedly took place and Christie was initially running for state senate, he was vocal about his support for reproductive rights. It wasn’t until 1995, when his wife was pregnant with one of his children, that the presidential candidate claims to have had a change of heart.
“I was driving back to work, I said to myself, you know, as to my position on abortion, I would say that a week ago that wasn’t a life. And I heard that heartbeat. That’s a life,” Christie told Piers Morgan in 2011 during an appearance on CNN.
“And it—it led to me having a real reflection on my position. And when I took time to reflect on it, I just said, you know what, I’m not comfortable with that anymore. That was back in 1995, and I’ve been pro-life ever since.”
But in 1996, Christie yet again vocalized his pro-choice position when asked by the Bergen Record about a resolution to override then-President Bill Clinton’s veto of a “partial-birth abortion,” or intact dilation and extraction, ban. “I’m pro-choice, but I think this procedure is reprehensible,” Christie told the paper, according to Politico, one year after he supposedly decided he no longer supported abortion at all.
In a strikingly similar move to his current situation, Christie would later tell the Associated Press in 2009 that he had been misquoted at the time.
In a February 2015 report for the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi questioned Christie’s “convenient” evolution on abortion politics, citing many of these inconsistencies on the issue. “It’s worth considering that around the time Christie had his epiphany, he was badly losing a Republican primary for the state assembly to a staunchly pro-life conservative named Michael Patrick Carroll,” Nuzzi noted.
No matter his personal views, Christie’s record during his tenure as governor is decidedly more black and white.
After taking office in 2010, Christie eliminated $7.5 million in funding from the state budget for family planning services. That money “supported a variety of health centers, including some run by Planned Parenthood, that provided access to preventive health screenings and birth control but did not directly fund abortions,” and led six reproductive health clinics to close, according to NJ.com.
The drastic reduction in funding for health centers led the state to experience a significant setback in reproductive health care. An analysis conducted by the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association found that the budget cuts, coupled with federal funding cuts to Title X programs, left New Jersey with upwards of 20,000 more women in need of publicly funded contraceptives and a 26 percent decrease in the state network’s ability to meet the demand for them.
Although the state legislature has repeatedly attempted to restore the funding to the state’s budget, Christie has consistently vetoed these measures.
And now on the campaign trail, Christie is using his anti-choice record to help drum up conservative votes.
During CNN’s GOP debate in September, Christie bragged about how he had never allowed Planned Parenthood to be funded under his leadership: “Six years ago, as the brand new, first-ever pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade, I defunded Planned Parenthood,” he asserted.
“I vetoed Planned Parenthood funding now eight times in New Jersey. Since the day I walked in as governor, Planned Parenthood has not been funded in New Jersey. We stood up, and every one of those vetoes has been sustained,” he continued.
A fact-check of the claim conducted by NJ.com found the “gist of the claim” to be true, pointing to numerous occasions Christie has vetoed efforts that would have provided funding at least in part to Planned Parenthood, but noted that Christie “appears to be conflating his opposition to the Medicaid expansion with the annual budget line-item vetoes” to exaggerate the numbers.
Christie has repeatedly voiced his opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, pointing to his own state as an example for how it should be done.
Speaking in South Carolina in September, Christie urged Congress to defund Planned Parenthood the same way he had. “If I can do it in New Jersey, there’s no reason our party can’t do it in Washington, D.C.” Christie said at the Take Back America Presidential Forum.
Christie has also vocalized his support for Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at this point in pregnancy, claiming that the legislation “brings Americans together.” Medical experts note that many fetal anomalies are not discovered until the 20th week of pregnancy, and that low-income women are disproportionately impacted by 20-week abortion bans.
“America is one of just seven countries that permits elective abortions past this point. We can do far better than this. I urge Congress to take swift action on this important issue,” Christie said to anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony’s List in a statement on the bill.
So while Christie’s past donations may remain murky, one thing is as clear as ever: Christie is far from pro-choice and he has the record to prove it. Even if the road to Christie’s current stance on abortion isn’t clear, his record is—and those extreme viewpoints are what we really need to be talking about.