Va. Gov.-Elect McAuliffe Criticized for Retaining McDonnell's Health Secretary

December 19, 2013 — In a move that has drawn criticism from some abortion-rights supporters, Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) on Wednesday said he would retain William Hazel as state secretary of health and human services, the AP/Columbus Republic reports (O'Dell, AP/Columbus Republic, 12/18).

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Hazel presided over the health and human services agency under Gov. Bob McDonnell's (R) administration, when the state adopted stringent restrictions on abortion clinics and other antiabortion-rights measures (Martz/Nolan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/18).

Some abortion-rights supporters have noted that while Hazel did not publicly back the new restrictions on abortion clinics, he did not take steps to stop them, the Washington Post reports (Vozzella, Washington Post, 12/17).

During the gubernatorial election, McAuliffe said the abortion regulations were unnecessary and pledged to work to undo them if he won office (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/18). He argued that his opponent -- state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli (R) -- and other Republicans had waged a "war on women." Specifically, McAuliffe cited legislation that imposes strict building code regulations on abortion clinics and legislation that, before it was amended, would have required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound prior to an abortion (Washington Post, 12/17).

He went on to win the election by nine percentage points among women, although the overall election results were much closer (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/13).

McAuliffe Defends Decision

McAuliffe in his announcement emphasized that Hazel, who has bipartisan support in the state Legislature, will help facilitate McAuliffe's efforts to expand Medicaid in the state under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). "He will be an invaluable asset as we work with leaders of both parties to get this done," McAuliffe said (AP/Columbus Republic, 12/18).

McAuliffe also distributed a packet of endorsement letters for Hazel from several female state legislators and health care stakeholders.

He said he would work to roll back the abortion clinic regulations. "I am committed to blocking any effort to limit a Virginia woman's right to make her own decision about her own health care," McAuliffe said, adding, "Virginians can expect me and my entire team to honor that promise over the course of the next four years."

Hazel said, "I will follow the governor's lead. He calls the plays."

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia Executive Director Cianti Stewart-Reid said, "We will be watching closely to make sure that Secretary Hazel works to advance the Governor's women's health agenda" (Walker, Virginian-Pilot, 12/18).