Politics & Policy

The Real Extremist

On women’s issues, Terry McAuliffe has staked out some positions far outside the mainstream.

The Democrats are trotting out their favorite smear tactic against Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli: attacking him as anti-woman because he’s a social conservative.

In a series of recent ads, the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe gleefully paints Cuccinelli as an extremist who secretly thinks women should be kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

#ad#The common theme in the ads is that Cuccinelli wants to “interfere” with women’s choices. (Appreciate that even a liberal like McAuliffe is stuck using conservative language about big government stretching into people’s personal lives. Progressive triumph of language, this is not.) “It’s Ken Cuccinelli we should worry about,” intones a male (!) narrator ominously, adding that he is “pursuing an extreme agenda, interfering in our personal lives, and waging war on abortion even in cases of rape and incest.”

In another spot, Holly Purvitz, a calm, gray-haired OB-GYN of 30 years, fixes her hazel eyes worriedly on the camera and says, “I’m particularly offended by Ken Cuccinnelli. Cucinnelli wants to make all abortion illegal, even in cases of rape and incest. Even to protect a woman’s health,” Purvitz says. “I want a governor who’s focused on schools and creating jobs. . . . Who’s Ken Cucinnelli to interfere in the lives of women across Virginia?”

But who’s the real extremist on abortion? McAuliffe has been happy enough to attack Cuccinelli’s position, but he’s been evasive about his own views. In March, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser in a prepared statement accused McAuliffe of “support[ing] a platform of abortion on-demand at any time, for any reason, paid for by Virginia taxpayers. That means he supports a platform of sex-selective abortion, late-term abortion, partial-birth abortion, and abortions on teenage girls without parental consent — all paid for by Virginia tax payers.” The Washington Post reported that, when it reached out to McAuliffe’s campaign for comment, “McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin declined to say whether Dannenfelser had accurately represented McAuliffe’s position on abortion.”

On his own campaign website, McAuliffe obliquely says, “I strongly believe that women should be able to make their own healthcare decisions without interference from Washington or Richmond.” But in August he also sent out a fundraising letter penned by Texas state senator Wendy Davis, famous for her filibuster in June of a state law that banned abortions after 20 weeks and increased the regulation of Texas abortion clinics. And Purvitz’s willingness to star in a spot for McAuliffe is also telling: She has donated to Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List (a Democratic group that promotes pro-choice female candidates) in the past, and serves on the Government Affairs Committee of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization that “strongly oppose[d]” the Texas abortion law Davis fought.

Add this all up and McAuliffe’s actions, if not his words, indicate he’s comfortable with the legality of late-term abortions. And that’s an extremist position. According to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll in July, 59 percent of Americans back banning abortions after 20 weeks, while only 30 percent support allowing them. In August, a Quinnipiac poll asked respondents whether they would rather have abortions be legal without restriction up to 24 weeks or up to 20 weeks; a whopping 60 percent chose 20 weeks.

Furthermore, McAuliffe opposed additional regulations of Virginia abortion clinics while Cuccinelli supported them. “Cuccinelli bullied the Board of Health to pass medically unnecessary regulations intended to close women’s health clinics, which provide numerous services,” McAuliffe’s website scolded. Testifying before the Virginia Board of Health in April, Purvitz argued against new regulations, saying, “You can’t regulate some businesses out of existence because you don’t agree with them and call it fair and reasonable.” “Bullied” is a strange word to use in a post-Gosnell era, when it’s become clear that insufficient regulation of abortion clinics has enabled medical malfeasance affecting women and, in some cases, causing their deaths.

#page#And those harsh regulations? Well, according to the Virginia Catholic Conference, here’s what they entail:

The Commonwealth’s strong permanent regulations will now prevent abortion facilities from subjecting women to unsanitary conditions, including physicians performing abortions with unwashed hands or blood splattered on examination tables and medical trays. No longer will inadequate building standards prevent emergency medical technicians from retrieving a woman in need of emergency care from inside the facilities to transport her to a hospital emergency room.

Strange, because these all sound like initiatives that someone who supports women’s health and safety should back.

#ad#Another McAuliffe TV ad depicts Cuccinelli as the jerk who wants to make sure women stay in unhappy marriages. “If Cuccinelli had it his way, a mom trying to get out of a bad marriage over her husband’s objections could only get divorced if she could prove adultery or physical abuse or her spouse had abandoned her or was sentenced to jail.” Okay, but here’s the key bit McAuliffe leaves out: Men would face the same rules in trying to end their marriages, if that law [against no-fault divorce for parents of minors] had passed. (PolitiFact, an outlet not known for being sympathetic to social conservatives, agreed the legislation would have affected both men and women.) The legislation, recognizing that divorce often had bitter consequences for kids, was an attempt to make sure that neither spouse in a marriage with minor children could opt out of the marriage on a whim.

The McAuliffe campaign is also talking about contraception, attacking Cuccinnelli’s past support for “personhood” legislation. Some argue that those bills would have made some (not all) forms of contraception illegal. Cuccinelli took on the issue directly in August, saying, “I’ve never supported legislation that invades people’s choices about contraception.” Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix then elaborated to PolitiFact that “Ken Cuccinelli is not interested in legislating contraception.” So, while we still can’t get McAuliffe to go on record whether he’s okay with the abortion of babies who could survive as preemies after labor was induced, we do have Cuccinelli on record saying he’s not going to impose new laws affecting contraception.

The McAuliffe campaign, like most on the left, appears unable to see the distinction between supporting religious liberty and supporting bans on contraception. Cuccinelli, the McAuliffe campaign ominously warns on the website, has “even advocated civil disobedience to stop expanded birth control access.” This is a reference to Cuccinelli’s belief that the Obama administration is wrong to require employers with religious objections to contraception to offer contraceptive coverage to their employees. McAuliffe might as well say Cuccinelli wants to stop expanded access to Bibles because he’s not recommending that secular private schools dole out Bibles.

It’s an old Democrat and mainstream-media trick to depict a Republican as hating women because he supports socially conservative values. But calling pro-life views anti-woman is to silence the voices of almost half of the women in the United States: According to a Gallup poll in January, 43 percent of women identify as pro-life. Like men, women in the United States are divided on such matters, hardly thinking or voting as a single bloc. On social issues, Cuccinelli may not see eye-to-eye with the D.C. expat living in Northern Virginia, but neither does McAuliffe share the views of many longtime Virginians.

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.


Katrina Trinko — Katrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

Most Popular


George Packer Gets Mugged by Reality

Few journalists are as respected by, and respectable to, liberals as The Atlantic’s George Packer. The author of The Assassin's Gate (2005), The Unwinding (2013), and a recently published biography of Richard Holbrooke, Our Man, Packer has written for bastions of liberal thought from the New York Times Magazine ... Read More
Politics & Policy

CNN: Everything but the News

For a while, we thought MSNBC had temporarily usurped CNN as the font of fake news — although both networks had tied for the most negative coverage (93 percent of all their news reports) of President Trump’s first 100 days in office. A cynic would argue that CNN had deliberately given Trump undue coverage ... Read More