RICHMOND — The Republican platform that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is helping to hammer out in Tampa contains a “salute” to states that have, like his own, passed “informed consent” laws meant to dissuade women from having abortions.
Virginia’s informed consent law, requiring that women seeking an abortion first undergo an ultrasound, brought unflattering national attention to Richmond this year and forced McDonnell into an awkward balancing act. Some observers think it may have cost the governor the chance to be Mitt Romney’ running mate.
The GOP platform in 2008 had a somewhat similar “salute,” directed not at states, but at individuals working with pregnant women to convince them not to abort.
Including that language this year has political risk for McDonnell and the Republican ticket, some observers say, particularly in the key swing state of Virginia — and amid the controversy over recent remarks by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). In explaining his opposition to abortion in cases of rape, the Senate candidate said rape rarely results in pregnancy.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington political scientist. “The controversy over the Missouri Senate candidate’s remarks has brought renewed attention to issues of reproductive policies, and that attention is not helpful for the Republican Party in its efforts to court swing voters.”
As originally proposed, Virginia’s informed consent bill would have required that most women get a vaginal ultrasound, a concept lampooned by liberal TV commentators and even “Saturday Night Live.” It was one of several pieces of social legislation that consumed the General Assembly session this year and had an impact on McDonnell’s national profile, which until then had mostly centered on job creation.
Amid the uproar, McDonnell had the ultrasound bill amended to specify the less invasive “jelly-on-the-belly” variety — a move that upset some conservatives.
“I just think had all this not cropped up, he might have been on that ticket,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
The party platform says nothing about ultrasounds, vaginal or otherwise. But in a section that lays out a sweeping anti-abortion plank, it says: “We also salute the many states that have passed laws for informed consent, mandate waiting periods prior to abortion and health protective clinic regulations.”
Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said the language made sense.
“It’s the Republican Party and one of the platforms of the Republican Party has, as long as I can remember, been a pro-life platform,” he said.
But President Obama’s campaign was quick to jump on the issue, saying that the party platform was “saluting states that pass laws forcing women to undergo ultrasounds before an abortion.
“Several Romney supporters and advisers were present, including ultrasound-supporter Governor Bob McDonnell,” noted Marianne von Nordeck, the Obama campaign’s Virginia press secretary, via e-mail.
Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington), one of the most outspoken critics of the ultrasound bill, called the language: “just stunning. . . . It’s just a gross example of the way they treat women, with such disrespect.”
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin suggested that Democrats were simply making hay.
“What’s stunning is watching the Democratic Party search in vain for any possible way to distract [voters] from the President’s record of 8.3% unemployment and $16 trillion in debt,” he said via e-mail from Tampa.
Craig Leonard Brians, a Virginia Tech political scientist, said any political fallout will be limited, largely because few people read the platform and even fewer believe it reflects the thinking at the top of the ticket.
“There’s a wide gulf between a platform and what the candidates or the people in the party writ large actually believe in or espouse,” Brians said. “The Democratic platform has been positioned at the opposite end, advocating no restrictions on women’s access to abortions, which is equally a minority view in American politics. . . . It’s clear from the get-go it’s not Mitt Romney who’s in Tampa writing this. If it actually were important to him, he would be there, or he would have sent a draft. It’s not his deal.”
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.