RICHMOND — On a day when antiabortion activists were marching in Washington, a Republican running for governor in Virginia attacked one of his rivals as soft on the issue.
Ed Gillespie and Corey Stewart, two of the four Republicans in the race, both call themselves “pro-life” and took part in the annual March for Life on Friday. On the eve of the march, each was asked about his stance on a bill before the General Assembly that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks.
Stewart told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that as governor he would sign it. Gillespie said he would support such a ban if it made exceptions for rape, incest or when the mother’s life was in danger. The bill before Virginia’s legislature calls for an exception only for the life of the mother.
In response, Stewart posted a video on Facebook accusing Gillespie of supporting late-term abortions and calling on him to drop out of the race.
“My opponent, Ed Gillespie, Establishment Ed, just came out that he would not sign a bill prohibiting late-term abortions in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Stewart said on the video. “I believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception. There should be no exceptions. . . . I just am having a hard time understanding how Ed Gillespie can call himself a conservative, how he can call himself a Catholic, how he can call himself, frankly, even a good man.”
Stewart’s attack drew swift condemnation from some of Virginia’s most prominent antiabortion voices. Among them was Del. David LaRock (R-Loudoun), who sponsored the bill calling for the ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
“@CoreyStewartVA, this is patently false,” LaRock tweeted. “You should be ashamed.”
Republican delegates Jackson H. Miller, Timothy D. Hugo and Kathy J. Byron — all vocal antiabortion legislators — also rallied around Gillespie
“@CoreyStewartVA you are a good friend of mine, but you know this is simply not true,” Miller tweeted.
State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham) summed up Stewart’s attack as: “More of the same crazy, divisive and self-serving hyperbole from @CoreyStewartVA that got him fired as Trump Chair.”
Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, also served as chairman of President Trump’s Virginia election campaign. He was ousted before Election Day for his role in an unauthorized protest outside of Republican National Committee headquarters.
Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and counselor to President George W. Bush, did not respond directly, but he tweeted a picture of himself taken with Vice President Pence, who addressed antiabortion marchers Friday.
“Was honored to be with my friend @VP @mike-Pence after his historic speech at the #MarchForLife,” Gillespie tweeted.
Shaun Kenney, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, paired that tweet with one from Stewart that said: “Vice President Pence just drove by at March for Life!”
“That’s gotta hurt,” Kenney said. “Wonder if @CoreyStewartVA waved at @EdWGillespie when he did.”
Gillespie also appears in a photo tweeted by Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List.
“With my friend #prolife #Catholic @EdWGillespie at the #marchforlife,” she wrote.
In an interview, Stewart stood by his criticism of Gillespie’s position.
“How can you possibly support exceptions on late-term abortion?” he said. “This is at 20 weeks. And an exception is a gaping wide-open hole. . . . Anybody who would allow an abortion under any circumstance for a baby that’s five months old — 20 weeks old — cannot call themselves pro-life.”
Stewart was dismissive of the tweeted photo of Gillespie with Pence, calling it proof that his rival is a “classic Washington insider,” not an antiabortion crusader.
“He knows everybody,” Stewart said. “He always has.”