Abortion foes to air first ad of Virginia governor’s race

RICHMOND — A group opposed to abortion announced Tuesday that it is launching the first radio ad of the Virginia governor’s race.

Women Speak Out Virginia, a political action committee affiliated with the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List, is funding a $50,000 ad buy targeting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

The ad, which will air on Northern Virginia, Norfolk and Richmond stations for two weeks, underscores the role that abortion will play in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), an abortion opponent who at times has tried to downplay the issue but recently supported applying strict, hospital-style building codes to Virginia clinics.

McAuliffe and his Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, are on opposite sides of the issue, with McAuliffe an abortion-rights supporter and Cuccinelli an opponent. Each has tried to cast the other as an extremist on the issue.

Susan B. Anthony List has been a big supporter of Cuccinelli, announcing an initial $1.5 million commitment to the race in February. The radio ad comes out of that $1.5 million. Advocacy and political groups affiliated with Planned Parenthood have lined up behind McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The ad portrays McAuliffe as someone opposed to “common ground abortion center health and safety standards.”

“In the race for governor, there’s one candidate who has taken extreme positions, far outside the mainstream, one candidate whose radical ideas are troubling to every woman in Virginia,” a female narrator says in the spot. “It’s Terry McAuliffe.

“Just this month, Terry McAuliffe opposed basic health and safety standards for some women’s health clinics that perform abortions. McAuliffe refuses to require women’s health clinics to provide the same sanitary environment we expect of dental offices and hospitals. McAuliffe is bowing to the political pressure from powerful corporations that run women’s health clinics.

“They put their own interests above the health of safety of their patients. Virginia women’s clinics have been cited for unsanitary conditions, poor staff training, and poorly maintained equipment. But Terry McAuliffe is afraid to stand up for women’s health. He’s afraid to stand up for you.”

Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List and Women Speak Out Virginia, sought to tie McAuliffe’s support for abortion rights to the capital murder trial of of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor.

“In light of Kermit Gosnell’s ‘house of horrors,’ it is an outrage that anyone who purports to care about women would oppose efforts to ensure that Virginia women are treated with basic dignity and respect,” Quigley said. “More than 80 violations have been discovered in Virginia abortion clinics including blood-stained equipment and operating tables, improper disposal of fetal remains, staff failure to properly sanitize instruments, and even doctors performing exams with unwashed hands. Despite evidence that these common ground health and safety standards are needed, Terry McAuliffe refuses to defect from his abortion industry allies, who have vigorously fought these pro-woman efforts from the beginning.”

McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin issued a news release about the ad even before Women Speak Out issued its own, playing up Cuccinelli’s connection to the affiliated Susan B. Anthony List. The release said the group “aims to ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s health is at risk.”

“Ken Cuccinelli has spent his career on a divisive ideological agenda, so its no surprise he’d make it the center piece of his campaign,” Schwerin said. “Ken Cuccinelli forced his divisive ideological agenda on Virginian women and it is already having real world ramifications. Cuccinelli himself said that these unnecessary regulations are designed to ‘make abortion disappear in America,’ and already we’ve seen a women’s health clinic be forced to close.”

Quigley said the Susan B. Anthony List opposes abortion except when the pregnancy would put the woman’s life at risk. But she said the organization does endorse candidates who support abortion in other circumstances, such as rape or incest.

Cuccinelli’s campaign declined to say Tuesday whether he supports abortion under any circumstances.

“It is well known that Ken Cuccinelli is a pro-life candidate,” said Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix. “Voters in the Commonwealth are concerned with the state of the economy and creating jobs.”

The Women Speak Out news release noted that McAuliffe’s campaign has declined to describe his stance on abortion in detail. When Susan B. Anthony issued a statement recently describing what it said was McAuliffe’s position on the issue — supporting “abortion on-demand at any time, for any reason, paid for by Virginia taxpayers,” including “sex-selective abortion, late-term abortion, partial-birth abortion, and abortions on teenage girls without parental consent” — Schwerin declined to say whether that accurately described McAuliffe’s position.

Pressed more recently to describe McAuliffe’s stance, Schwerin e-mailed The Washington Post: “Terry would oppose additional restrictions on women in Virginia making health care decisions. Terry believes the next Governor needs to be focused on mainstream ideas to grow the economy — but he’ll stand with Virginia’s women when their rights are under attack.”

Abortion dominated Virginia’s 2012 General Assembly session, when legislators considered a measure to require women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion. The issue was more muted this year. GOP leaders, who felt the ultrasound controversy helped Democrats push claims of a GOP “war on women” in last fall’s presidential and U.S. Senate contests, made sure this year that abortion bills died quietly in committee.

This post has been updated.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
Errin Whack covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post, including the commonwealth’s General Assembly and the 2013 gubernatorial race.
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