SIX YEARS ago, when Virginia’s General Assembly considered the so-called “personhood amendment” to the state constitution, which granted full rights to “preborn human being[s] from the moment of fertilization,” the list of co-sponsors was short. In the state Senate, five of 40 lawmakers, all Republicans, signed on. Among them were then-Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, the current GOP candidates for governor and attorney general, respectively.
There’s a reason the amendment had relatively few sponsors, and there’s a reason it failed even in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. Not only would the amendment have banned abortion, as the sponsors clearly intended, it also provided an opening to prohibit common methods of birth control, including the pill and intrauterine devices.
To most Virginia legislators, including many Republicans, the 2007 “personhood” bill was too far-reaching, a potentially radical intrusion into domestic, family and individual decision-making. Although Republicans held 57 seats in the 100-member House, the bill got just 43 votes.
Mr. Cuccinelli, now the attorney general, is understandably interested in casting himself as a moderate in the gubernatorial election. He has bristled lately at questions about his past positions on abortion and birth control. He prefers to stress economic and job-creation issues, even though his legislative record suggests that he was often more concerned with, and passionate about, social questions.
In response to questions at a retirement community in Ashburn last week, Mr. Cuccinelli insisted that government should not interfere with contraception and denied that he ever backed legislation that could do so.
The practical effects of “personhood” measures, including the one in Virginia to which Mr. Cuccinelli affixed his name, would easily include banning the most popular forms of contraception. This is because the pill, as well as other forms of birth control, work partly by preventing the implantation of eggs in the uterus wall after they have been fertilized. If the “preborn” are protected “from the moment of fertilization,” as the 2007 bill demanded, then contraception — which defeats a fertilized egg’s chances of becoming a living being — could be prohibited. In fact, the legislation seems to demand it.
As the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists pointed out, “Some of the most effective and reliable forms of contraception — oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, and other forms of FDA-approved contraceptives — would be banned” by “personhood” measures.