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The Criminalization of Medical Care?

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Imagine going to a hospital and being told: "Sorry, we are not allowed to practice medicine here."

Ridiculous? Not if "personhood politicians" like Ken Cuccinelli take power. If enacted into law, Cuccinelli's personhood beliefs could not only ban abortion at any stage, but might also criminalize many common forms of birth control, including "the pill." It may even threaten the In vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure which has brought millions of babies into the world.

Fortunately, the current Attorney General of Virginia, (now running for governor), has given his state a preview of what to expect:

  • Cuccinelli has already used his power as Attorney General to try and block Obamacare, suing to deny medical care to millions -- out of step with even the current U.S. Supreme Court, considered the most conservative in decades.
  • On immigration, he seems to have softened his position recently, even taking down his webpage on the issue. But generally he supports Arizona-style harshness, opposes "amnesty," has introduced legislation to make speaking a non-English language in the workplace a fire-able offense, and in one bizarre moment actually compared immigration policy to rat infestation!
  • He would criminalize all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
  • In sexual politics, Cuccinelli supports bringing back archaic laws to criminalize oral sex, even between straight married couples. He also opposes homosexual sex practices, and recommends laws to criminalize that as well.
  • He worked to deny funding for embryonic stem cell research in a bill named after the late Christopher Reeve -- who enthusiastically supported the research.
  • He is currently being sued for firing his assistant Attorney General who allegedly commented on a website that Cuccinelli is "never in the office" and was an "egomaniac."

But it is his position on personhood which is perhaps most threatening.

Personhood is the belief that fertilized human eggs should have the same legal rights as full-grown people. Put into law, personhood is expressed in language such as then-Senator Cuccinelli's bill which would protect "each born and preborn human being from the moment of fertilization."

What are we talking about, exactly? The fertilized egg, or blastocyst, is essentially liquid; women routinely shed these on their menstrual cycles.

According to personhood supporters, such fertilized eggs deserve full legal rights in a court of law. This would of course make every abortion illegal, and provide a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which allows pregnancies to be ended until viability.

Right now, legal rights for people are gained gradually, not all at once.

We take this for granted: privileges and responsibilities accrue. One cannot drive until 16, vote until 18, or drink until 21 -- that sort of thing. It is just common sense; a packet of seeds is not the same as a harvested crop.

Even in human biology, age matters. The loss of a child is a tragedy. But does anyone seriously compare that real-life agony -- with the loss of a fertilized egg in a woman's period?

When brought before the voters, the personhood issue has been soundly defeated: twice by the voters of Colorado, where the idea began, and most recently by Mississippi, sometimes called the most conservative state in the Union.

But a personhood bill might be shoved through by legislators, without the involvement of the public...

As a state senator in 2007, Cuccinelli tried to do just that: he co-sponsored a personhood bill, HB 2797. Fortunately, it was rejected on a bipartisan vote, 43-53, in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

In 2012, he enthusiastically supported another personhood bill, HB 1.

That bill was also defeated on a bipartisan basis. Why? One reason might be: The legal changes offered by a personhood bill would keep lawyers busy for a lifetime. The word "person" is mentioned 25,000 times in Virginia law -- and every use would be a new opportunity for interpretation, and lawsuits.

"There were many more complexities and nuances and legal arguments and legal perspectives on that bill than I had ever imagined," said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, Republican of James City who "urged fellow Republicans to join Democrats in killing the bill."

Now that he is running for governor, Cuccinelli appears to have put aside the personhood issue -- saying his focus is on " jobs and the economy" -- should he be taken seriously?

Look back to last year, 2012, when he held a rally for HB 1, the previously-mentioned second personhood bill. He said: "It's hard to believe we actually have to come and advocate for something as basic as life, but we've had to do it for decades and we're going to have to do it for the rest of our lives. The fight for life is going to last for all of our lives.'"

That does not sound like someone who is willing to change his mind -- or listen to his constituents.

How do Virginians feel about the personhood issue?

In a 2011 Quinnipiac poll, the citizens of Thomas Jefferson's state rejected personhood by 58-32 percent, nearly a two-to-one margin.

In a seeming attempt to soften his image, Cuccinelli now says his support of personhood was never intended to challenge the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe v. Wade. He says: "Every bill I've ever supported has either had language that says we're conforming to the constitutional rulings of the Supreme Court or language to that effect. I'm not looking to make a challenge in that respect."

PolitiFact's non-partisan Truth-O-Meter rates that statement FALSE, because the bill he co-sponsored contains no such language.

Cuccinelli sometimes appears to actually enjoy tricking people, as when he told a story about misleading a newspaper -- which was interviewing him about his campaign: "We won from the churches, on pro-life, and taxes, that was it, that was all we did. Did the same thing in the general election -- and told the (Washington) Post we were talking about transportation. They bought it."

Is this the man Virginia wants for governor?