WASHINGTON -- Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, said on Monday that he has always opposed Virginia's mandatory abortion ultrasound law because it violates the conservative principle of limited government.
"It was a mandate, and Ken Cuccinelli is very consistent in his view on the role of government," Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli's top political consultant, told The Washington Post. "He was opposed to the mandate last year and is opposed to it this year."
Cuccinelli, who is running for governor of Virginia this year, has also been one of the more aggressive opponents of the Obama administration's contraception insurance mandate, recently going so far as to say that people should be willing to "go to jail" to fight the law and protect religious freedom.
But Cuccinelli's opposition to reproductive mandates has not always been so clear. As a state senator in 2004, he sponsored a bill that would have forced doctors to anesthetize any fetus older than 12 weeks before performing an abortion. Doctors who failed to comply with the law would be charged with a Class 6 felony and face up to five years in prison, despite medical evidence that anesthesia increases the risk of death for women undergoing abortions.
State Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk), the author of several bills to repeal the mandatory ultrasound law, said he was "suspicious" when Cuccinelli sent two staff attorneys into his office last week to offer support for Northam's new "optional ultrasound" bill.
"They showed up on Wednesday evening unannounced and unsolicited to say that [Cuccinelli] was ready to not only support my bill, but to work some of the senators to see if we could get it out of committee," Northam told The Huffington Post. "He's obviously running for governor, and he's been unsupportive of women's issues over the years, so I think he did this to try to mend some fences."
Cuccinelli's office confirmed that "there were conversations" with Northam's office last week in which the attorney general "offered conceptual support" for Northam's bill, which would essentially repeal the ultrasound mandate. "Attorney General Cuccinelli's personal position is that government should not and does not need to mandate an ultrasound, as experts have indicated that ultrasound imaging is already the practice before performing an abortion," spokeswoman Caroline Gibson told HuffPost in a statement. "But government can and should require that the doctor offer to share the image with the patient, so she has the information she needs to make a fully informed decision."
Northam said he had been confident after his conversation with Cuccinelli's staff last week that the bill would pass out of the GOP-controlled state Senate Health and Education Committee at an upcoming hearing on Thursday. Instead, Northam was told on Sunday night that the committee had scheduled an early meeting Monday in a new location to discuss the bill. Cuccinelli's attorneys were not present at that meeting, and the committee voted 6-3 to toss the bill without a hearing.
"His political epiphany must have somehow evaporated over the weekend," Northam told HuffPost.
Gibson said Cuccinelli was not aware of the impromptu committee meeting on Monday and had not changed his mind about the bill. "We had prepared to have, as we always do, a line attorney present to speak to the bill," she said. "While we understand that sometimes the General Assembly committee schedules are variable, we were not made aware of the change in schedule."
The abortion rights group ProgressVA accused Cuccinelli on Monday of trying to "whitewash" his record on women's health for the sake of his campaign. "Virginians are not easily fooled," said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA. "Ken Cuccinelli has made a career out of attacking women's reproductive rights and crusading to deny us access to health care."