Opponents of abortion in Va. split on next move

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 8:36 PM

RICHMOND - For nearly two decades, allies of Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell have pressured the General Assembly to toughen regulation of abortion clinics in Virginia.

But this year, some antiabortion groups have adopted a new strategy: Lobby McDonnell to direct the state Board of Health to regulate the clinics, as a legal opinion from the attorney general says the board is empowered to do.

One of the state's most committed lobbies, which for years has pushed for the General Assembly to approve proposals designed to reduce the number of abortions, is now split.

Activists play down the division, saying they have two opportunities to achieve their goal. But some have grown frustrated with McDonnell, while others oppose pressuring him.

At a recent rally, more than 150 people huddled in the bitter cold outside Virginia's historic Capitol and waved signs that read "Governor McDonnell, Regulate Clinics" and "Governor McDonnell, Please Act."

"Governor, we are asking you to exercise your authority, your conscience, your responsibility, and you have an attorney general who will defend you," said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William).

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and the conservative Family Foundation faced criticism from some antiabortion activists for not participating in the rally. Cuccinelli and the organization bowed out after finding out organizers designed the event in part to pressure the governor, said spokesmen for the attorney general and the Family Foundation.

"Now is not the time to play politics with the lives unborn children," said Steve Waters of Richmond, who helped organize the rally.

McDonnell has resisted direct appeals from activists and legislators, a petition and letters to his office urging him to direct the Board of Health to toughen regulations.

"I have been a strong advocate for the pro-life position for my 18 years in office and will continue to be," McDonnell, who served in the House of Delegates and as attorney general before becoming governor last year, said in an interview. "I believe we ought to pass legislation, and that's what I intend to support."

Last week, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates passed a bill to more tightly regulate abortion clinics - one of several antiabortion proposals being considered during the legislative session. But the bill is expected to fail in the Democratic-led Senate.

In August, Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion saying that the state Board of Health has the power to impose greater restrictions on clinics. His opinion was a response to legislators who asked whether the state has the authority to regulate facilities providing first-trimester abortions and the medical personnel who perform them.

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