What’s the Matter With Virginia?

Virginia got a rush of bad coverage last year, when the term “transvaginal ultrasound” momentarily forced the nation to realize what a bunch of prurient misogynists had taken over the state government, but unfortunately the end result has been basically nothing.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (left) and Senator Mark Obenshain (right).

If you ever want to see how it is that anti-choice radicals manage to get so much power in a nation that by and large opposes their agenda, look no further than what’s going on in Virginia. The state got a rush of bad coverage last year, when the term “transvaginal ultrasound” momentarily forced the nation to realize what a bunch of prurient misogynists had taken over the state government, but unfortunately the end result has been basically nothing. Anti-choice Virginia Republicans in power just waited out the storm and got right back to work chipping away at abortion and contraception access, trying to usher in the day when they too can be like Pennsylvania, driving desperate women to seedy underground operators like Kermit Gosnell.

Last month, Virginia’s health board quietly passed a bunch of regulations that are unrelated to health care and are, in fact, meant to do the opposite of expanding health care: shut down reputable abortion providers so more women have no other options but unhealthy ones. They did this at the behest of their radically anti-woman attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, who started to enforce the regulations—which included things like door width and the size of janitorial closets—with zeal. The first victim was Hillcrest Clinic of Norfolk, which has been providing abortion for 40 years, and was one of the five National Abortion Federation-certified clinics in the state.

Cuccinelli is running for governor, so the Republicans need a nominee to replace him. Did they learn their lesson from having the nation mock them for wanting mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds for abortion patients in 2012? Nope. The nominee is Mark Obenshain, a state senator who tried to pass a law in 2009 that in its final version would have legally penalized women for miscarriage. As ThinkProgress reported:

Under Obenshain’s bill, which was introduced in 2009,

When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother at or after the delivery or abortion, the mother or someone acting on her behalf shall, within 24 hours, report the fetal death, location of the remains, and identity of the mother to the local or state police or sheriff’s department of the city or county where the fetal death occurred. No one shall remove, destroy, or otherwise dispose of any remains without the express authorization of law-enforcement officials or the medical examiner. Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Obenshain’s deputy campaign manager later told the blog that Obenshain “is strongly against imposing any added burden for women who suffer a miscarriage, and that was never the intent of the legislation” and that the final version of the legislation had “ramifications that neither he nor the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office ever intended.

Still, considering that the vast majority of miscarriages happen early in a pregnancy, with no more “remains” than a heavy menstrual period, you can see how this bill could have caused massive havoc for women who, for basic common sense reasons, saw no reason to report a miscarriage, much less preserve the “remains” for a medical examiner.

But even for women who would have followed this silly law, it would have been a nightmare. Such a law is tailor-made to abuse women for “failing” to bring a pregnancy to term, and to cast around in her background for something she did that the miscarriage can be blamed on, opening the door to prosecution. Eat too much? Too little? Drink a glass of wine? Have sex with your husband? All these things could be blamed, if the authorities decided they didn’t like you, leading to time in the clink. The misogyny couldn’t be more obvious, and yet here the Republicans are, saying that they want this guy to be their new attorney general.

Of course, that shouldn’t be any surprise. Just because the country finds the outrageous hostility towards women that characterizes Virginia’s Republican leadership to be deplorable and almost unimaginable doesn’t mean they care. As long as they keep getting elected, they’ll keep attacking women’s rights. Look, for instance, at Republican Party of Virginia Treasurer Bob FitzSimmonds, who is tight with Ken Cuccinelli. Asked about emergency contraception on college campuses, FitzSimmonds replied that he’s “not a big fan of contraception, frankly.” He added, to demonstrate what a superficial thinker he is, “I think there are some issues, we’re giving morning-after pills to 12-year-olds, and pretty soon I guess we’ll hand them out to babies, I don’t know.” (See video above.)

This is the kind of anti-choice extremism that you can’t even sell in Mississippi, and yet here it is, the main agenda of the Republican leadership of a swing state like Virginia, which voted for the overtly pro-choice Obama in 2012. But, as I’ve said before, this just goes to show that Thomas Frank got it exactly backwards in his 2004 book What’s the Matter With Kansas, when he said that voters vote Republicans in to ban abortion and instead get economic conservatism. There’s no indication that the Obama-supporting citizens of Virginia want their leaders to exhibit such a single-minded obsession with punishing and controlling female sexuality. On the contrary, the current governor, Bob McDonnell, won by minimizing his misogynist extremism and focusing on jobs, education, and improving the state government. Cuccinelli won in no small part by drafting off McDonnell’s coattails. Now in power, all Republicans want to do is make sure women’s lives are as miserable as humanly possible, because it makes them so angry to know that ladies just keep having sex like that’s a thing you get to do.