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PolitiFact FL: Did Trump say states have the right to punish women over abortion, as Harris said?

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about the implementation of Florida's abortion ban at an event Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in Jacksonville, Fla.
John Raoux
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about the implementation of Florida's abortion ban May 1, 2024, in Jacksonville, Fla.

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.

On the same day Florida’s six-week abortion ban took effect, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Jacksonville to blast the law and blame one person: Florida resident and former President Donald Trump.

Harris said the Florida ban prohibits abortions before most women know they are pregnant. Then she singled out Trump, citing recent remarks in a Time magazine about his stance on policies including reproductive health.

"Just this week in an interview, (Trump) said states have the right to monitor pregnant women to enforce these bans and states have the right to punish pregnant women for seeking out abortion care," Harris told campaign supporters.

Her phrasing could make it sound as though Trump spoke in support of the states taking those actions. Rather, he acknowledged that states have the right to do this but would not share his opinion on whether they should.

On April 30, Time published the transcripts of two interviews with Trump with the online rollout of its cover story about his vision for a second term in office. Reporter Eric Cortellessa interviewed Trump twice in April, once at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s West Palm Beach estate, and once by phone.

Cortellessa pressed Trump for details about his somewhat murky abortion position, including whether he would veto federal abortion restrictions or a bill that grants full legal rights to embryos. Trump’s answers consistently deferred to the states. (Trump also wouldn’t say how he planned to vote on Florida’s ballot amendment that would allow abortions to the point of fetal viability.)

Then, Cortellessa asked, "Do you think states should monitor women's pregnancies so they can know if they've gotten an abortion after the ban?"

Trump replied, "I think they might do that. Again, you'll have to speak to the individual states."

As Trump began talking about Roe v. Wade, the legal precedent that allowed federal abortion access until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it in 2022, Cortellessa jumped in, mentioning states prosecuting women who received illegal abortions and asking Trump if he was comfortable with that.

Trump said his comfort was irrelevant. Here’s the transcript:

Cortellessa: "States will decide if they're comfortable or not — "

Trump: "Yeah the states — "

Cortellessa: "Prosecuting women for getting abortions after the ban. But are you comfortable with it?"

Trump: "The states are going to say. It’s irrelevant whether I’m comfortable or not. It's totally irrelevant, because the states are going to make those decisions. And by the way, Texas is going to be different than Ohio. And Ohio is going to be different than Michigan. I see what's happening."

Cortellessa gave Trump’s abortion comments prominence within the Time story, characterizing them by saying Trump "would let red states monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans." He later wrote that Trump said policies such as monitoring women’s pregnancies and prosecuting them for illegal abortions should be left to the individual states.

Brian Fallon, a communications director for the Biden-Harris campaign, told PolitiFact that Trump’s answers may have avoided a direct call for states to monitor pregnant women, but "clearly means he thinks individual states are within their rights to do so."

Likewise, Fallon said, on punishing women, Trump’s deferment to states "means he believes it is in their power to make the decision to punish women if they wish."

In recent legislative sessions, lawmakers in states such as Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Kansasand South Carolina have offered bills that could potentially allow the prosecution of women who undergo abortions. None has advanced far; Republican leaders have often come out against them as too extreme. PolitiFact was unable to find any bills introduced so far that would require monitoring of pregnancies to prevent abortions.

President Joe Biden and Harris have long said that Trump supports punishing women for getting abortions, a claim we previously rated Mostly False. In a 2016 MSNBC town hall, host Chris Matthews asked about penalties for abortion, and Trump said there has to be "some form of punishment" for women. But Trump retracted the comment that same day, amid criticism, and issued a statement that said he meant that physicians should be held legally responsible, not women.

Our ruling

Harris said that "just this week in an interview, (Trump) said states have the right to monitor pregnant women to enforce these bans, and states have the right to punish pregnant women for seeking out abortion care."

Trump’s comments allowed for that possibility, though he wasn’t that explicit about whether he thought they should. Trump told a Time reporter that the reporter would need to ask the states "because the states are going to say."

Harris’ statement is accurate but needs clarification. We rate it Mostly True.

RELATED: DeSantis claimed some states allow ‘post-birth’ abortions. None do

Our Sources