THE BLOG
10/25/2013 10:46 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

A Lesson From Virginia: Attacking Women's Health Is Not Only Bad Policy, It's Bad Politics

Texas Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott recently told an El Paso audience: "There is no one in the state of Texas who has done more to fight to help women than I have in the past decade."

It's a bold choice of words coming from someone who wants to end access to safe and legal abortion, and has supported shutting down 76 women's health centers across the state. Thousands of women have already been cut off from access to affordable health care because of policies he supports -- any more "help" from Greg Abbott and women in Texas will really be out of luck.

This is just the latest attempt by an extreme politician to appeal to women voters despite policies more suited to 1953 than 2013. Case in point: Virginia, where the most anti-woman ticket we've ever seen from a major party is on the ballot this fall. In a recent debate against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli even took a page out of Greg Abbott's book, claiming: "No one up here has done more to protect women ... than I have."

Sound familiar? Just as with Greg Abbott, the problem isn't what Ken Cuccinelli says -- it's what he believes. His record reads like a Buzzfeed list of the worst anti-women's health positions we're seeing from extreme politicians across the country. He wants to ban safe and legal abortion even in the cases of rape, incest or to protect the health of the woman, opposes emergency contraception, and finds no-copay birth control so appalling that he has encouraged his supporters to go to jail for civil disobedience. He bullied a Virginia medical board into passing medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers that have caused health centers to close. He's a leading advocate for so-called "personhood" efforts, which, if enacted, could interfere in personal, private medical decisions relating to birth control, access to fertility treatment, management of miscarriage, and access to safe and legal abortion.

But here's the good news: When it comes to Ken Cuccinelli, women in Virginia aren't buying what he's selling.

According to a Washington Post poll from May, Ken Cuccinelli was effectively tied with Terry McAuliffe among women voters. As of a poll last week, women support Terry McAuliffe by 20 points -- a historic gender gap. What happened? Turns out the more Virginians learn about Cuccinelli's positions on women's health, the less likely they are to vote for him. In what was supposed to be a total nail-biter, women have broken this race wide open -- overwhelmingly standing with Terry McAuliffe, who has pledged to stand like "a brick wall" when our rights come under attack.

In fact, these extreme positions are costing Ken Cuccinelli not only with women, but a broad cross-section of voters who understand that access to Planned Parenthood, preventive care, and affordable birth control are important health care issues and fundamental economic ones. Virginia needs a governor who will attract new business and move the economy forward -- an impossible task for someone who wants to take half of the population back to the 1950s.

So-called "women's issues" have flipped a switch for voters. Across the state, we're seeing unprecedented numbers of folks who are not only eager to vote in this election, but looking for ways to help spread the word to their friends and neighbors. This election is within our reach, thanks to the folks who have knocked on hundreds of doors and made thousands of phone calls to make sure women in Virginia know what's at stake this fall.

According to a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, the Republican Party's continued attacks on women's health are costing them significantly with women nationally. Despite efforts to address their party's "women problem," only 14 percent of respondents said the GOP had moved closer to their perspective since the 2012 elections. In fact, 33 percent of women said Republicans are headed in the opposite direction. Of those women who said the Republican Party had moved away from them, nearly three in five, 59 percent, said it was because the GOP had become "too conservative."

Anyone who wants to run for office should take a lesson from Virginia: attacking women's health is not only bad policy, it's bad politics. The outpouring of activism we're seeing in the Commonwealth to fight back against these attacks and elect a candidate who stands with women isn't an outlier -- it's the new normal.

Cecile Richards, president, Planned Parenthood Votes

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