Va. Gov. McDonnell's Stance on Abortion Rights Draws Scrutiny

April 24, 2012 — Throughout his political career, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has stated that he opposes abortion in all circumstances except to save a woman's life, but the governor recently issued a statement saying he also would permit abortion in cases of rape or incest, the Washington Post reports.

According to the Post, McDonnell's spokesperson, Tucker Martin, last month issued a statement to the newspaper that said, "The governor's position [on abortion] is he is pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother."

The statement has caused a stir among abortion-rights supporters and opponents. Kellie McHugh, executive director of Virginians for Life, said, "His message has changed," adding, "He's either flip-flopped or not being honest."

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said McDonnell is trying to back away from the more extreme position he's held for years. "You don’t switch your viewpoint on this overnight. These are your core values," she said.

Some political observers believe McDonnell modified his position to improve his chances of being picked as a running mate to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said, "If you provide you are open to more exceptions, you're going to increase your appeal to moderate voters."

Martin said McDonnell's position has not changed over the past 20 years but has been misrepresented.

Past Positions

According to the Post, McDonnell sponsored or co-sponsored 35 bills to restrict abortion rights during his 14 years in the Virginia House of Delegates, although many of the bills were the same measures introduced in multiple years.

In 1996, he represented Virginia on the Republican National Convention platform committee, which supported a constitutional amendment banning abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. In 1999, McDonnell stated on a questionnaire that abortion should be legal when a woman's life is in danger but not in cases of rape or incest (Kumar, Washington Post, 4/21).