The Collegian
Thursday, July 16, 2020

Ken Cuccinelli is the wrong man for governor

Let's be honest: Virginia doesn't have any stellar candidates for governor this year. But that doesn't mean you get a free pass to sit out this election. It's a common misconception that state-level elections, unlike presidential or Congressional races, aren't all that important. That's just not true.

The outcome of this election will affect every person living, working or studying in Virginia, especially if we allow the Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in to office. The people who win those seats will have the power to control issues such as funding for welfare, public schools and infrastructure, not to mention marriage equality, implementation of the Affordable Care Act and reproductive rights in the commonwealth.

Those might just sounds like words right now, but they have real-life consequences for all of us. Because it would be impossible to cover the extreme stances of all three GOP candidates in just one article, let's focus on health care and reproductive justice as seen by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

If you are a woman or care about any of us ladies, you should know that health care rights are pretty essential. This extends beyond the "pro-choice" v. "pro-life" rhetoric; reproductive justice means everything from accessible contraception to cancer screenings. It means safely loving whom you want to in the privacy of your own home, and being able to support a child if you choose to have one.

Cuccinelli promises to threaten all of this if he is elected. Some of the highlights of his political career so far include: trying to reinstate Virginia's outdated anti-sodomy law (criminalizing oral and anal sex), being the first attorney general in America to file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act (a few minutes after it was signed into law), supporting "personhood" legislation that would outlaw some forms of contraception and threatening the Virginia Board of Health into passing TRAP (Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers) legislation.

Apparently, in Cuccinelli's ideal Virginia, we would all be happily paired off in heterosexual marriages, having boring sex for procreative purposes only and praying that our health insurance (if we could afford it) covered "pre-existing conditions" such as being a woman. If that sounds like a nightmare to you, you should probably get out and vote next Tuesday, because Cuccinelli is angling to make it a reality.

Personally, I know very few people who are anything but enthusiastic about the existence of hormonal birth control. It does all kinds of good things, including helping women with certain medical conditions live happy and healthy lives. Nonetheless, Cuccinelli once told a bishop that he should be willing to "go to jail" to protest the Affordable Care Act's birth control benefit, which prevents your employer from being allowed to decide whether or not you have access to affordable contraception. He even compared himself to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his willingness to encourage civil disobedience to fight this law. Sound a little unbalanced to anyone else?

Cuccinelli has also been an ardent supporter of "personhood" legislation, calling it a "scientific reality," and co-sponsoring such a bill in 2007. For those who don't know, "personhood" laws define a fertilized egg as a full, legal person, and as such can interfere with personal medical decisions relating to contraception, fertility treatments and access to emergency contraception as well as safe and legal abortions. They are also completely inconsistent with the Constitution and the outcome of Roe v. Wade. Considering this alongside his anti-Obamacare crusade, we can see that Cuccinelli's record has a theme of fighting laws the Supreme Court has already deemed constitutional.

On abortion, Cuccinelli's out-of-touch agenda gets even wilder. Although he's been frantically trying to cover up his extreme record to win over women voters, the facts speak for themselves. Cuccinelli is against all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest and health of the mother. He has said that his "ultimate goal" is to "make abortion disappear in America and make people want it that way," and has even compared this ideological crusade to the fight against slavery.

When it comes to unconstitutional, anti-abortion legislation of the kind that Cuccinelli supports, the moral stances of individual people don't really matter from a practical standpoint. In the end, there will always be unwanted pregnancies and there will always be ways to end them. Passing "personhood" laws, shutting down clinics and making reproductive health care unaffordable does more than just increase rates of unplanned pregnancies. It increases rates of medically unsafe procedures and turns women into criminals. The proven most effective way to reduce abortion is make contraception easily accessible, encourage comprehensive sex education and fund women's health centers. We can expect the exact opposite from Governor Cuccinelli.

Although I could go on and on about his incredibly extreme history, I'll end with the fun story of Cuccinelli bullying the Virginia Board of Health until it passed the TRAP laws he supported. TRAP legislation masquerades as a way to protect women, but the real goal (as stated pretty clearly in the name) is to shut down clinics that provide abortions alongside STI testing and preventive services such as cancer screenings and Pap tests. The general strategy is to reclassify these clinics as hospitals, thereby dictating everything from the width of the hallways to the size of the parking lots.

In practice, these regulations clearly have nothing to do with protecting women's health. Instead, they place demands that are impossible for the already underfunded health centers to meet until they are forced to shut down. Although Cuccinelli fought to pass these laws throughout his time in the state Senate, it wasn't until he was elected attorney general that he had his time to shine.

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After the Board of Health voted to exempt existing health centers from these unreasonable restrictions, Cuccinelli threatened to refuse it state legal defense unless it repealed that decision. A member of the board has already resigned as a result of this blackmail, and once the laws came into effect, Virginia's busiest women's health center was forced to shut down, leaving thousands of women without access to affordable health care.

The Washington Post called this move "classic Cuccinelli: ideological activism masquerading as professional legal 'advice.'" That's exactly the kind of dangerous partisan politics we can expect if we allow Cuccinelli--the same man who once sued a University of Virginia professor for doing research on climate change and who was one of only three attorneys general in the United States not to support reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act--to become the next governor of Virginia. Your voice matters, and it couldn't be more important: Vote Terry McAuliffe 2013.

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