Va. Gov. Candidates Spar Over Abortion-Rights Issues

October 21, 2013 — In the Virginia governor's race, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe both are attempting to portray the other as an extremist on abortion-related issues, the AP/NBC4 Washington reports.

Virginia law prohibits abortions in the third trimester and only permits public funding for the procedure in cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment or threats to a woman's life. The state also requires "informed consent" before an abortion, parental consent for minors, and a 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound before the procedure. In addition, abortion clinics are required to meet the same building standards as newly constructed hospitals.

According to the AP/NBC4 Washington, abortion rights "could have an impact" in deciding the election. Polls show that McAuliffe has a significant lead over Cuccinelli among female voters; 54% of the state's 4.8 million voters are women.

Cuccinelli opposes abortion rights unless a woman's life is in danger, a stance that McAuliffe has called "very extreme" because it would not permit abortions in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's health is at risk.

Cuccinelli claims that McAuliffe supports taxpayer funding of abortions through the third trimester. McAuliffe has said that claim is false.

'Personhood' Measure at Issue

McAuliffe's campaign has also cited a failed 2007 "personhood" bill that Cuccinelli co-sponsored as proof that Cuccinelli would try to impose a broader abortion ban if elected. That bill would have given rights to fertilized eggs.

Similar measures failed as recently as last winter, but women's groups have expressed concern that Cuccinelli, if elected, would boost the prospects for such bills. Alena Yarmosky of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said, "If elected governor, we're sure Cuccinelli would continue as he's done as attorney general and keep up these attacks on women's health."

University of Virginia constitutional law professor Kevin Walsh said that a personhood bill would not have the effect of banning abortion because federal constitutional rights would trump the state law.

However, Katherine Greenier, a women's rights attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, pointed out that such a law could outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned.

McAuliffe Pledges To 'Be a Brick Wall' Against Further Restrictions

McAuliffe has said that, if elected, he would "be a brick wall" against any additional abortion restrictions. McAuliffe also has indicated that he would favor repealing the ultrasound law and abortion clinic requirements, according to the AP/NBC4 Washington.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, said that stance puts McAuliffe outside the mainstream, since "[p]olls show the majority of Americans support reasonable restrictions on abortion" (AP/NBC4 Washington, 10/19).

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Votes -- a political arm of Planned Parenthood -- on Friday reported that it spent $1,099,846 in September on broadcast and cable ad buys against Cuccinelli (Cooper, "Political MoneyLine," CQ Roll Call, 10/18).