Abortion is THE Issue for Bob McDonnell

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Abortion is THE Issue for Bob McDonnell

Kathleen Reeves

Bob McDonnell’s position on abortion is not incidental to his career as a politician; it’s central, and it’s also extreme.

A Washington Post editorial considers Bob McDonnell’s unwillingness to discuss his plainly anti-choice past in the Virginia gubernatorial race. His opponent, Creigh Deeds, wants to talk about abortion, but McDonnell, who, as a state delegate, helped write an informed consent bill, and who spoke at a meeting of the National Right to Life Committee last year, is now strangely silent.

McDonnell claims that Deeds’s efforts to highlight his views on abortion are divisive and irrelevant. But a governor’s position on abortion is far from irrelevant. As the Post editorial points out, McDonnell has raised issues that are not, in fact, pertinent to a gubernatorial race:

Mr. McDonnell has made much of his opposition to Democratic legislation in Congress concerning energy (cap and trade) and labor (card check) that, as governor, he would be in no position to influence. By contrast, determining access and limits on abortion remains to a large extent within a state’s, and a governor’s, purview.


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The governor has veto power over state legislation. The governor submits a budget proposal to the legislature. The governor delivers a "State of the State" (or in this case, Commonwealth) address setting forth his or her priorities for the legislative session. This speech sets the tone for the year, influences lawmakers, and has the potential to be a rallying cry for any cause.

McDonnell has said that his views on abortion and contraception flow from his Catholic faith. This doesn’t mean that these views are privately, personally held, as he’s demonstrated; he legislates these religious views, consistently and aggressively. In addition to the informed consent bill that he co-sponsored, he also sponsored parental consent and late-term abortion-banning bills, both of which also passed. All in all, he’s introduced 35 anti-abortion bills.

Bob McDonnell’s position on abortion is not incidental to his career as a politician; it’s central, and it’s also extreme. He’s said he believes that abortion should be illegal in every circumstance. And he’s articulated his vision for a pro-life Virginia:

“Those policymakers with the votes determine whether or not you’re going to have a pro-life state where protections are given to the unborn consistent with federal court decisions or whether you’re going to have a different kind of policy."


It’s not surprising that abortion has been absent from McDonnell’s rhetoric of late. The Post points out that the majority of Virginians live in the more progressive northern part of the state. But it’s also true, and perhaps more significant, that the divisive social issues that Republicans leaned on in the past are gradually turning against them, at least on the national level. Gay marriage, when it’s mentioned, is mentioned as an achievement by politicians who support it. More and more, those who haven’t supported it seem to be embarrassed by their opposition, or their party’s opposition, and they keep quiet. Abortion may be more popular, still, as a wedge issue among conservatives, but more often on the state level, in certain states. Politicians who’ve started to receive national visibility, like the candidates in Virginia, don’t do well to flaunt their opposition to a woman’s right to choose. That’s because most Americans believe abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances (and that’s why polls that claim a “pro-life majority” are wrong).

A Washington Post article from last week called Deeds’s focus on abortion “risky.” Au contraire, it would be risky for moderates (and conservatives who are more moderate than McDonnell) to elect a governor who believes in only one reproductive right: child-bearing.