Which Choice Was Worse For Virginia Women?

Let’s stop the smears and let the voters decide.

Now that Neil Gorsuch has been confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, electing politicians at the state level who will defend abortion rights is more important than ever. The issue is now front and center in the Virginia Democratic primary for governor, as it rightly ought to be.

There should be a robust debate about how best to defend women from President Trump, his Republican majority in Congress, and our pro-corporate, anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-civil rights Supreme Court. This defense must include women’s reproductive freedom, women’s voting rights, women’s rights at work, women’s right to healthcare and women’s rights as immigrants just to name a few.

But unfortunately in Virginia, some Democrats are less interested in defending women on all these fronts from the real threats we face than in smearing an upstart progressive candidate taking on the status quo.

In the Virginia Democratic primary for governor, Tom Perriello is challenging the establishment candidate Ralph Northam. Astonishingly, Northam, a Democrat, voted not once but twice for a hero of the anti-abortion movement, George W. Bush. 

Electing politicians at the state level who will defend abortion rights is more important than ever.

It’s worth noting that George W. Bush signed into law the first ever federal measure to ban a form of abortion. He appointed two anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court whose votes were critical to upholding his administration’s ban on late-term abortions by a 5-4 vote. That decision was the first time since “Roe v. Wade” that the Supreme Court ruled a woman’s health was secondary to the government’s right to restrict abortion procedures prior to fetal viability.

Bush prohibited U.S. funding for any international organization that performed abortions or advocated for the legalization of abortion. He also banned the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.

Since when is a politician who helped elect George W. Bush president a lifelong champion for choice?

You don’t get more anti-choice than George W. Bush. And that’s who Ralph Northam supported for president in 2000 and 2004. Is this the politician that Democrats and independents should back as Virginia’s firewall against Trump and the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court?

Northam says he was an “apolitical doctor” at the time to explain his votes ― an excuse that doesn’t make sense. When he supported Bush, he was in his 40s ― about the same age as Perriello is now, and his father himself was an elected official. Does he think we’re so naive to think he didn’t understand who he was voting for?

It’s should also be said that the Virginia Democratic establishment’s hand-picked candidate leans enough to the right that he was once courted by the state’s Republicans to switch parties.

So why are pro-choice groups like NARAL going hard against Perriello in support of Northam, a former Republican?

How big organizations in Washington and Richmond play politics is a lot different from how regular voters decide who they want to represent them. Some advocacy organizations have become more focused on payback for their establishment friends than on using their member’s donations to beat back extremist Republican politicians. This coordinated effort in Virginia to smear Tom Perriello is a case in point.

Perriello was rightly criticized by pro-choice forces over his 2009 vote for the ultimately unsuccessful Stupak-Pitts amendment to the Affordable Care Act. He’s since called Stupak the worst vote of his career and worked for six years while not running for any office to stand up for women and earn the 100 percent rating he has from the NARAL questionnaire in the governor’s race today.

What’s really going on with the attacks on Perriello’s record on women’s issues is not about how the candidate’s lifetime record stacks up against his opponent on choice. It’s about how old school political organizations prefer to tip the scale in favor of a handpicked candidate of the Democratic establishment instead of focusing on defeating anti-choice Republicans and defending women’s economic, reproductive and civil rights in the general election.

I am not questioning the pro-choice bona fides of Ralph Northam in 2017. He was a leader in the fight to defeat a transvaginal ultrasound requirement in Virginia. But I do question the concerted effort his campaign and allies are conducting to drag Perriello over the coals for a vote he has apologized for and clearly deeply regrets and to smear Perriello as somehow anti-choice, while ignoring the fact that Northam himself voted for Bush.

By voting for Bush, Northam helped start the fires pro-choice activists have been fighting for the past decade and a half. When a group like NARAL states that “For his entire career... Ralph Northam has always put women and families first,” they’re conveniently leaving that out.

Given that the candidates don’t differ at all on their positions on reproductive rights today, it seems that pro-choice attacks on Perriello are more about defending Northam’s status as a long-time member of the Democratic establishment than fighting the true danger to Virginia’s women and families. That’s the Republican that one of these two pro-choice Democrats will face in the general election this fall.

Let’s hope that the decision of pro-choice organizations to spend precious resources helping their establishment buddies take out a fellow pro-choice challenger in the primary doesn’t come back to hurt women in the general election this fall.

We need the best possible Democrat on the ticket to help Virginians beat back a pro-Trump Republican candidate for governor. Then we need that Democratic governor to lead the resistance against Trump, Republicans and a right wing Supreme Court. And I suspect voters heading to the polls in a primary are more capable of making a better choice for who is best candidate to do that than establishment politicos in Richmond and Washington, DC.

Let’s stop the smears and let the voters decide.

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