Cuccinelli says he won’t limit birth control, expresses mild support for affordable housing

Cuccinelli says he won’t limit birth control, expresses mild support for affordable housing

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II expressed mild support for government-assisted affordable housing programs during a campaign swing through Fauquier County on Wednesday, saying he would prefer to create a strong economy with good jobs that allow people to afford their own homes.

Cuccinelli, visiting a small evangelical church here, also elaborated on previous remarks on the subject of contraception and “personhood” legislation. A day after a questioner challenged his views on the topic, the Republican gubernatorial nominee said he would amend any measure protecting embryotic life to ensure that the law would not restrict birth control.

“I have a flat position: I’m not touching contraception while I’m governor,” Cuccinelli said in a brief interview. Cuccinelli, who has previously supported a measure that declared life begins at fertilization, said that if a personhood bill did reach his desk, he would delete anything that might affect contraception. “I’d amend it out of the bill,” he said. “And the governor gets the last shot.”

Cuccinelli is battling former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe in a race that has dwelled more on character than policy.

Both have accused each other of ethical lapses. McAuliffe’s campaign has portrayed Cuccinelli as zealot whose social agenda includes limiting reproductive rights. Cuccinelli has depicted McAuliffe as a huckster whose campaign has tried to distract from more substantive issues and McAuliffe’s own failings as a self-described entrepreneur behind ventures such as GreenTech Automotive or Franklin Pellets.

McAuliffe’s campaign said he would bolster support for affordable housing programs that provide transitional and long-term support for people in need.

“Terry has been a strong proponent of Virginia’s housing trust fund, and he supports increased support for qualified nonprofits that want to provide affordable housing,” McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said.

McAuliffe’s campaign accused Cuccinelli of denying his previous support for measures whose effect could be to limit some forms of contraception.

“It’s shocking that Ken Cuccinelli continues to whitewash his record of sponsoring personhood legislation that could make common forms of birth control like the pill illegal,” Schwerin said.

On Wednesday, Cuccinelli motored into Fauquier County in the campaign’s blue camper as part of his “Putting Virginians First Tour.” He stopped at the True Deliverance Ministries on Jerico Road near Warrenton, whose property include a whimsical structure, called the Ark, on a small island where people pick up free clothing and household items. The church of 200 members also runs a food pantry and a thrift store whose clients come from several counties.

“I’m just amazed at the reach,” Cuccinelli said.

The Rev. Tyronne Champion and his wife, Felicia, showed Cuccinelli houses converted to use as transitional shelter for up to 40 people who stay three months or as long as a year. When they leave, many discover the most difficult challenge is finding an affordable home.

“That’s maybe the toughest of all the areas we heard about it, because it’s not like we can go buy people houses,” Cuccinelli said afterward when asked whether government should play a role in providing affordable housing. Cuccinelli said he would “perhaps” support the use of government grants, loans or other housing incentives to community groups, including faith-based organizations such as True Deliverance Ministries.

“I think the best thing government can do is put policies in place so people are more likely to have jobs so they can afford to have a house. That’s so fundamental to so many solutions to so many sorts of problems,” Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli also voiced a note of skepticism about the way the government subsidizes housing through the tax deduction for home mortgages.

“I think there’s an argument to be made that [it] makes us build bigger houses as opposed to building more affordable houses, because the more income you have, the more valuable that income deduction is,” he said.

Asked to elaborate on his support of personhood legislation that opponents said could prohibit some forms of contraception, Cuccinelli said he would not support limits on birth control.

“I don’t support government getting into addressing contraception, blocking it — call it what you want. Period. That is not something that I would expect to see included in a personhood bill,” Cuccinelli said.

On Tuesday, Cuccinelli found himself in a sharp exchange over his past support for “personhood” during a question-and-answer session among senior citizens in Ashburn. 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.”

A version of the bill, sponsored by Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Two Democratic lawmakers tried to amend the bill to ensure that the measure would not affect contraception, but those efforts were shot down in the GOP-run House. Opponents, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, warned the measure could limit women’s access to some forms of contraception.

“Standing here — and I don’t have the bills in front of me — I don’t concede that it’s ever been a part of any personhood bill,” Cuccinelli said. “In my recollection, the one I can remember also said ‘consistent with all rulings of the Supreme Court.’”

By that, Cuccinelli said, he meant the landmark 1965 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraceptives. The ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut held that the U.S. Constitution protects a right to privacy without explicitly saying so — a finding that laid the ground for the Roe v. Wade decision protecting a woman’s right to abortion.

Cuccinelli said the 1965 ruling made it clear that contraception beyond the reach of government prohibition.

“At least, in that case, it was among married couples but I think we’ve all mentally applied it across the board,” Cuccinelli said. “And I don’t intend to touch it.”