Some sit out anti-abortion rally to avoid confronting McDonnell
A split has emerged in the anti-abortion community over whether to pressure Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to direct the state Board of Health to further regulate abortion clinics in Virginia.
Both Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and the conservative Family Foundation declined to participate in an anti-abortion rally scheduled for Thursday outside the Capitol to avoid "confronting" McDonnell after they found out that organizers designed the event to pressure the governor.
Both Cuccinelli (R) and Family Foundation Chaplain Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr. had been scheduled to attend the rally, which will take place on the second day of the General Assembly's annual session.
"While Attorney General Cuccinelli is a long-time pro-life leader and is very supportive of the people redressing their grievances with their elected officials at a rally like this, he does not support calling on his client -- the governor -- to circumvent the normal public regulatory process, even for the most laudable of goals,'' Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said. "While this may be a favored approach to getting a more immediate resolution to the abortion clinic issue, the expanded use of this power -- generally reserved for emergency situations -- would set a bad precedent, allowing future governors to abuse such a power."
Del. Bob Marshall, who is speaking at the rally, describes the Family Foundation's absence as "odd" and "inconsistent" and wonders whether it has to do with the group's president's husband employment with McDonnell. Several conservative activists also e-mailed Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb accusing her of remaining "silent'' because of her desire to not "confront" the governor, according to e-mails provided to The Post.
Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion in August, saying the Board of Health has the authority to regulate clinics in response to legislators who asked whether the state can regulate facilities that provide first-trimester abortions as well as the medical personnel who perform them.
Anti-abortion activists, including Marshall (R-Prince William), who requested the legal opinion, have been asking McDonnell to implement the regulations ever since.
Several organizations, including the American Freedom Project and Hampton Roads for Life, have organized a petition drive to encourage McDonnell to act.
"Governor Bob McDonnell is reluctant to give the directive to the state Board of Health to move forward in promulgating these regulations,'' said Mike Prunty of the American Freedom Project. "This is somewhat puzzling to some because he built his political career as a 'pro-life candidate.' ''
But Marshall said those who think the rally is merely about criticizing McDonnell are being defensive. "He ran as a right-to-life candidate,'' he said. "Just because his Republican consultants don't want him to do things doesn't mean we're bashing him. I don't know where that comes from. He can make his own decisions.''
Cobb said she believes the best way to regulate abortion clinics is by getting legislation passed in the General Assembly -- something her organization has been working on for more than a decade.
In an e-mail to those questioning the Family Foundation's absence at the rally, Cobb wrote that she is working directly with the McDonnell administration on a possible law and expects to see legislation during the next two years.
She said the Family Foundation has criticized McDonnell on issues in the past, and is willing to do so in the future, regardless of her husband Matt's job as deputy secretary of health and human resources. "We've had to confront the governor and we will do so again,'' she said.
Cobb wrote in the e-mail that McDonnell is not going to ask the Board of Health for clinic regulations regardless of grass-roots pressure. The 15-member board is appointed by the governor. Eleven board members were named by former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D). "The regulations would not pass,'' she wrote. "The idea being floated by some that the governor can force the board to do this or remove them all is a non-starter. It simply isn't going to happen. Some may prefer a more confrontational style, but it is obvious that this governor is not going to be confrontational."
Anti-abortion legislators -- including Cuccinelli, who served in the state Senate -- supported bills that would have treated abortion clinics as ambulatory surgery centers and required them to meet hospital-type regulations with regard to equipment and space.
Currently, abortion clinics are regulated the same way as offices where patients receive oral or plastic surgery.
Abortion providers fear that clinics won't be able to afford the costs of making the changes and will shut down or increase their prices. They predict that if the Board of Health imposes the restrictions, 17 of 21 facilities in the state would most likely have to close their doors.
The rally at the bell tower begins at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
Other speakers include Keith Fournier, deacon of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and founder of the Catholic Way; David Bereit, national director of 40 Days for Life, a Christian pro-life organization; Shawn Carney, co-founder of 40 days for Life; John Seeds, a Richmond doctor; Andrea Pearson of Silent No More; Rita Dunaway, assistant director of the Valley Family Forum; Tom Glessner, founder and president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates; and Karen Zbinden of Concerned Women for America.
Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, will speak by audio hook-up. Maddy Curtis, a 16-year-old "American Idol" contestant from Virginia, will sing the national anthem.
| January 11, 2011; 12:59 PM ET
Categories: Anita Kumar, General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Ken Cuccinelli, Robert F. McDonnell, State Senate
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