RICHMOND — A liberal activist released a video late Wednesday of GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin saying that he has to limit his antiabortion comments on the campaign trail for fear of alienating Virginia's independent voters but that he would go "on offense" if he wins office and Republicans take a majority in the House of Delegates.
Part of the video aired Wednesday night on the “The ReidOut” on MSNBC, and a longer clip was posted online by the liberal news site the American Independent. It was produced by Lauren Windsor of the Undercurrent, which calls itself “a grassroots political web-show for investigative and field reporting.”
Apparently shot at a Youngkin campaign event last month in Loudoun County, the footage shows Windsor expressing strong antiabortion views while Youngkin seems sympathetic.
When another questioner asks whether Youngkin would defund Planned Parenthood or “take it to the abortionists,” Youngkin replies: “I’m going to be really honest with you. The short answer is in this campaign, I can’t. When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House we can start going on offense. But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.”
Youngkin’s campaign said the footage shows Youngkin simply resisting efforts to be drawn into culturally divisive topics, noting that he did not respond when Windsor asked about a full abortion ban or a prohibition if a fetal heartbeat is detected.
“Glenn Youngkin tells everyone he meets the same thing: He can’t wait to go on offense for the people of Virginia by building a rip-roaring economy, creating more jobs with bigger paychecks, restoring excellence in education, prioritizing public safety, and making Virginia the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family,” Youngkin spokesman Matt Wolking said via email. “This deceptively recorded audio demonstrates that Glenn Youngkin says the same thing no matter who he is talking to, unlike [Democrat] Terry McAuliffe who knowingly makes false allegations and decides what to say based on whatever poll is in front of him.”
McAuliffe, a Democratic former governor who is seeking another term, accused Youngkin of being duplicitous.
“Glenn Youngkin wants to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion in Virginia. Glenn knows he is completely out of step with Virginians, and he’s now admitted to hiding his real agenda just to get elected. Virginians cannot trust a word that comes out of his mouth,” McAuliffe said in a statement emailed by his campaign.
The dust-up gets at the tricky balance for any Republican running statewide in a Virginia that became increasingly blue during the Trump administration. Issues such as abortion play well among the GOP base but are riskier in the moderate suburbs that have tilted toward Democrats over the past four years.
In his comments on the video, Youngkin says that he believes Democrats have pushed the abortion issue too far and that most Virginians would favor further limits.
“Listen, I am staunchly, unabashedly pro-life. And the abortion issue is an issue that the Democrats use to divide us,” he says. “And, in fact, there is such common ground for us to say, wait a minute, where this crazy governor and the governor before him have taken Virginia is so out of bounds, let’s start the walk back.”
Youngkin is referring to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his predecessor McAuliffe, who served from 2014 to 2018. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, stirred nationwide furor among Republicans in 2019 when he made comments about a bill that would have loosened restrictions on late-term abortions that some on the right interpreted as supporting killing babies.
Northam said that he meant no such thing and that he was describing the medical process of dealing with a late-term pregnancy that has become unviable. But his clumsy original comments have become a rallying point for abortion opponents.
In his comments on the video, Youngkin says that “we got to stop using taxpayer money for abortions. And we got to stop allowing abortions all the way up until the last week before birth.”
In fact, Virginia law allows abortions after the second trimester only in cases where “the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
Public funding of abortions, through Medicaid, is allowed in Virginia only in certain cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest; where a doctor certifies that the fetus has “incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency”; or the life or health of the mother is at risk.
In the video, Youngkin assures his questioners that “you’ll never hear me support Planned Parenthood. What you’ll hear me talk about is actually taking back the radical abortion policies that Virginians don’t want. And, in fact, they’re the radicals, they’re the radicals. And we’ve got to take it back.”