Chief Deputy Attorney General Patricia L. West and another aide told Sen. Ralph S. Northam of Norfolk that the office would try to persuade two Republicans in the evenly divided Senate to go along with the measure, Northam said Monday.
“They said that he had never taken a position on the ultrasound bill and was supportive of Senate Bill 1332,” Northam said, referring to his legislation to allow women to opt out of the ultrasound.
Cuccinelli’s office confirmed that the attorney general supports lifting the mandate and that West had offered to help make some language fixes to Northam’s legislation. It also said that it approached “two legislators” at Northam’s request, but they were not interested in amending the bill.
“There were conversations last week with Senator Northam’s office where the attorney general’s office offered conceptual support,” Caroline Gibson, his deputy director of communications, said via e-mail.
Cuccinelli’s support surprised Northam and other Democrats. They characterized it as an election-year conversion by the attorney general, a tea party favorite who is running for governor.
“Ken Cuccinelli has made a career out of attacking women’s reproductive rights and crusading to deny us access to health care,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA. “His record on this issue is clear and it’s one Virginians can’t forget.”
Cuccinelli raised constitutional questions about the ultrasound bill last year. But his nuanced stance drew little notice amid a battle so pitched that it attracted the attention of late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live.”
With Cuccinelli’s help, Northam had high hopes that his bill would make it out of committee and perhaps the full Senate.
Instead, the measure died before the Senate Education and Health Committee Monday afternoon. The panel voted to pass the bill by indefinitely.
What happened between Cuccinelli’s overture and the bill’s collapse is a matter of some dispute, however.
Cuccinelli’s office says it didn’t realize that a vote on the bill, originally scheduled for later this week, was coming Monday. Northam, who is running for lieutenant governor, says Cuccinelli, the GOP front-runner for governor, simply got cold feet about coming out for a bill opposed by his base.
“For his people to come to me the day before the committee was going to hear the bill was what I would call a political epiphany,” Northam said. “It vanished.”
That Cuccinelli would want to soften the ultrasound law also surprised some antiabortion activists. “I would find it very disturbing,” said Don Blake, of the Virginia Christian Alliance. “It would be a big letdown to his base.”