Advocates for victims of sexual assault on Thursday assailed statements made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore during campaigns in 1997 and 2001, saying he showed a profound disregard for the suffering women endure immediately after an attack.
In a news conference organized by Kilgore's opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, three sexual abuse counselors discussed the Republican's assessment that victims of rape and incest should be allowed abortions only if they report the crime within seven days.
"It's not only hateful and cruel, it's also impractical," said Jim McKinley-Oakes, a social worker who has counseled victims of sexual assault for more than three decades. "It's an invasion of their privacy not unlike the act of rape itself."
Joyce Allan, who said she was raped by a family member as a child, said Kilgore's insistence that victims report to authorities within a week is a "glaring sign of ignorance and arrogance."
Kilgore said Thursday that he is "not going to do anything to criminalize women or criminalize victims."
In 1997, when he lost a bid to be attorney general, he was quoted in The Washington Times as saying he opposes abortion unless the mother's life is in danger and "supports exceptions for rape and incest if the woman reports the crime to police within a week."
During his winning campaign for attorney general in 2001, several news organizations reported that Kilgore supported exceptions for rape and incest victims, but only if the victim promptly reported the crime.
Kilgore aides said Thursday that he stands by his position.
"I'm not going to support legislation that criminalizes women," Kilgore said several times. "I am going to look for ways to get crimes reported. That's a consistent view. I'm a culture-of-life guy. I'm not the one being dishonest on the issue."
Kilgore said that as attorney general, he led the fight in 2002 to allow prosecutors to file charges against husbands for raping their wives. He said Kaine is focusing on abortion to distract from other issues in the campaign.
"They are getting desperate here, trailing in the polls, trailing in the fundraising," Kilgore said. "I predicted months ago that the minute he found himself behind, he would abandon Southwest Virginia, abandon Southside, go to Northern Virginia and run just on abortion. It proves our point."
Recent public polls have shown Kilgore with a slight edge over Kaine, while some private polls for the campaigns have indicated the race is very close.
Abortion has been a tricky issue for both candidates during the past several months, as changes on the U.S. Supreme Court have revived questions about the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark court case legalizing abortion nationwide.
A leading abortion rights group declined to endorse Kaine this summer, citing his support for restrictions it considers onerous. Kaine has backed parental notification laws and opposes a late-term procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion. He said he opposes abortion on moral grounds but pledged to keep it legal.
Kilgore has accused Kaine of trying to be on both sides of the issue by claiming to be "pro-life" in conservative circles and promoting abortion rights in others.
Kilgore has refused to say whether he would sign a bill outlawing abortion if the Roe decision were overturned. He called that a "hypothetical question" and said he would "work within the parameters of whatever the court says."
His refusal to answer the abortion question at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate Sept. 13 prompted an exchange with the debate's moderator, NBC's "Meet the Press" host, Tim Russert.
After repeatedly saying he would not answer a hypothetical question, Kilgore answered a Russert question on taxes by saying he would veto any tax increase.
"That's a hypothetical question," Russert boomed, prompting laughter in the audience.
Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said the campaign organized Thursday's news conference to highlight Kilgore's position on abortion.
"It's an important issue to women across the state, especially as the Supreme Court dynamics have been changing," Skinner said. "When people go into the voting booth on November 8, they are going to want to know where both candidates stand."
Kathy Prudden, a counselor in Alexandria who was at the news conference, said Kilgore should give "some very careful thought to the consequences" of his position.