WASHINGTON-- Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has had a mixed record on abortion throughout much of his political career, but in the past week has made a series of subtle moves toward a solid pro-choice position as he becomes an increasingly likely pick as Hillary Clinton’s running mate.
Reproductive rights groups criticized President Barack Obama last week for avoiding the word “abortion” in his reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down two abortion restrictions in Texas. Obama has been reluctant to use the word throughout his presidency, and reproductive rights advocates consider such reticence a sign of soft support for the issue.
Yet Kaine, who signed a bill as governor of Virginia in 2009 to create “Choose Life” license plates that raise money for anti-abortion activists, issued a bolder statement than the White House, pointedly using the word "abortion" as well as "right to terminate a pregnancy."
I applaud the Supreme Court for seeing the Texas law for what it is – an attempt to effectively ban abortion and undermine a woman’s right to make her own health care choices. This ruling is a major win for women and families across the country, as well as the fight to expand reproductive freedom for all.
The Texas law is quite similar to arbitrary and unnecessary rules that were imposed on Virginia women after I left office as Governor. I’m proud that we were able to successfully fight off such ‘TRAP’ regulations during my time in state office. I have always believed these sort of rules are an unwarranted effort to deprive women of their constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.
Kaine's reference to his time as Virginia governor could help to preempt or respond to criticisms that he was unfriendly to reproductive freedom as chief executive. While Kaine has consistently opposed abortion restrictions and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood as a senator, he backed some anti-abortion proposals as governor, including the license plates law and a parental consent law. Kaine recently explained that he is personally opposed to abortion, but supports a woman’s right to have one.
Kaine’s position is squarely in line with American voters. According to a 2014 poll, about one-quarter of respondents said they support abortion rights with no moral qualms, one-quarter want the government to restrict abortion, and the largest percentage -- 45 percent -- said they support legal abortion despite being morally opposed to it.
But now that Clinton, the most pro-choice presidential candidate in American history, is vetting him for vice president, Kaine needs to bring his record more in line with hers -- and he’s starting to do that. Last week, Kaine signed onto Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) Women’s Health Protection Act, the most important piece of federal legislation to the reproductive freedom movement. The bill, first introduced in 2013 and modeled on the Voting Rights Act, would prevent states from passing medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion that make it difficult for women to access the procedure.
More than 30 senators have been listed as cosponsors of the bill since 2013, but Kaine was never among them -- until June 28th of this year, when he quietly added his name to it. The move thrilled reproductive rights groups, who would like to see the stalled legislation get more attention in the wake of the Supreme Court’s momentous abortion rights decision.
“Senator Kaine's support of the Women's Health Protection Act is a welcome addition to the momentum our movement has following the decision,” said Kaylie Hanson Long, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice America, “as this bill will protect women against efforts to eliminate our right to choose.”
Amy Dudley, a Kaine spokeswoman said: "The Supreme Court has affirmed that TRAP laws present an undue burden to women with respect to abortion access. Sen. Kaine believes that passage of the Women's Health Protection Act is the right next step to ensuring all states follow the same standard - one that protects a woman's constitutional right to make her own health care decisions."
Blumenthal told The Huffington Post he's "very happy" to have Kaine's name on his bill.
"I have always counted Senator Kaine as an ally in this effort, and so I am pleased that he has co-sponsored this important bill," he said. "I know him to be a consistent, steadfast and courageous supporter of women’s health care and rights.”
This story has been updated with comment from Tim Kaine's office.