Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II got in a sharp exchange over his past support for “personhood” legislation Tuesday while bringing his campaign pitch for governor to a bipartisan audience of senior citizens in Loudoun County.
Cuccinelli (R) faces businessman Terry McAuliffe (D) in the contest to run the commonwealth, and both are focused on wooing vote-rich Northern Virginia. McAuliffe and fellow Democrats have sought to boost his share of female voters by portraying Cuccinelli as an extremist on issues involving women’s health, including his backing of a bill that says life begins at fertilization. Republicans have called that an attempt to distract from more important issues, including the economy and job creation.
At the Ashby Ponds retirement community in Ashburn, the Republican was asked by a woman whether, as governor, he would “support and sign personhood legislation that contains restrictions on birth-control medication and birth-control devices.”
“I don’t think government should be doing anything about birth control. . . . So, no, I would not,” Cuccinelli responded. “Government legislation shouldn’t address contraception.”
When the woman suggested that meant he would not support personhood legislation, “because that’s automatic with a personhood bill,” Cuccinelli replied: “If you say so, but what I’m telling you is I’m not going to touch contraception as governor, so I think you and I might disagree.”
“So the rumors that you would support birth-control restrictions are false?” she asked.
“Actually,” Cuccinelli said, “I wouldn’t call them rumors, I might call them lies. Yeah, let’s be accurate about this.”
Cuccinelli reiterated that point to reporters after the event.
“I‘ve never supported legislation that invades people’s choices about contraception,” he said. “People can argue what they want about personhood. I’ve said it before and I’m telling you now, that contraception is not something we’re going to regulate, period.”
While in the state Senate in 2007, Cuccinelli co-sponsored a bill to add a line to the Virginia Constitution declaring that “life begins at the moment of fertilization and the right to enjoyment of life . . . is vested in each born and preborn human being from the moment of fertilization.”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has warned that such a law might “deny women access to the full spectrum of preventive health care including contraception.”
At Cuccinelli’s lone debate against McAuliffe — last month in Hot Springs — the Republican similarly denied that he had sought to ban contraception.
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog concluded that although Cuccinelli “might not have specifically sought to ban contraception, that likely would have been the practical effect of the bill he co-sponsored.”
In a 2012 piece about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that did not specifically allude to Virginia, the nonpartisan organization PolitiFact found that “personhood laws could limit some forms of birth control,” although it also found that some commonly used forms of contraception might not be affected by such legislation.
The McAuliffe campaign jumped on Cuccinelli’s remarks Tuesday, saying in a statement that the Republican was “intentionally making false statements to hide his beliefs and record.”