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Virginia GOP debate over abortion is a chilling reminder about what’s at stake

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Virginia GOP debate over abortion is a chilling reminder about what’s at stake

Front-runner Ed Gillespie said he wanted to “see abortion banned.”

A GOP primary debate in the race for Virginia governor spiraled into an anti-choice competition on Saturday night, culminating in the front-runner, Ed Gillespie, saying that he hopes that abortion is banned.

“I would like to see abortion banned because I think it is the taking of an innocent human life,” Gillespie said, noting however that given Roe v. Wade, such a ban would violate the “law of the land.”

The exchange, which occurred in Amherst, Virginia, was posted online by Blue Virginia.

Gillespie didn’t start his answers by outright endorsing an abortion ban, though he was eager to establish his anti-choice bonafides.

“I believe that life begins at conception and ends at natural death,” he began, before outlining how he would be a “pro-life governor for the people of Virginia” — namely, by signing the 20-week abortion ban currently winding its way through the Virginia legislature. Gillespie also pledged to reintroduce abortion clinic regulations known as TRAP laws, which impose medically unnecessary and burdensome regulations on abortion providers, often forcing them to close, and ban “taxpayer funding for abortion.”

TRAP laws in other states have been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The federal Hyde Amendment already prohibits any federal funds from going toward abortion care.

Gillespie’s anti-abortion views, however, weren’t extreme enough for the other candidates.

Corey Stewart immediately hit Gillespie for his support of exceptions in the 20-week abortion ban for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest or harm the life of the woman. And State Sen. Frank Wagner (R) said he supported a Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade. “I am against abortion, period, no exceptions. I will not compromise on this issue,” Stewart said, pledging to sign a late-term abortion ban his first day in office, if elected.

After their comments, Gillespie jumped back in to pledge his personal support of a total abortion ban

It was, in seven minutes, a demonstration of how far-right candidates succeed in pulling the party further right on women’s rights — and further from the views of most Americans.

It was also a demonstration of what is at risk for America’s women when it comes to reproductive rights, and a reminder of the stakes that have always existed for women in Republican-controlled states.

While many women in America woke up to fears over their access to birth control and abortion care after President Trump’s victory, the starkest battles over abortion rights are still playing out in the states, as Republican state legislatures took up legislative playbooks for TRAP laws and 20-week bans.

Framed as protections for women’s health, in reality these restrictions have the result of pricing abortion out of reach for low-income and rural women.

Gillespie endorsed exactly these bills in the debate, saying that as Governor his goal would be to pass bills and regulations to “tighten up the rules” on abortions in a way that would be able to survive a constitutional challenge.

Indeed, in his comments, Gillespie indicated that Roe v. Wade was the only thing standing in the way of even more aggressive actions, illustrating its importance as a bulwark for the rights of women in conservative states.

In the Virginia GOP debate, the candidates all expressed hope for an erosion of federal abortion rights, which could give states more leeway to restrict access or cut off abortion rights altogether.

It’s a reality that effects a large swath of America’s women: Thirty-three states have Republican governors. Twenty-five states have both a Republican governor and a fully Republican-controlled state legislature. After the 2016 election, Republicans control both chambers of state congress in 32 states — perilously close to the 3/4 of state legislatures required to ratify a constitutional amendment.

“With Donald Trump in the White House and his pal Ed Gillespie in the Governor’s Mansion, the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Virginians would be under assault like never before,” Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said in a statement. “Ed Gillespie’s comments are despicable and show just how much is on the line for Virginia women and our families in this election.”

Thus far, Republicans in Congress have made the erosion of women’s rights a top priority: In a last-ditch effort to pass Trumpcare with support from the far-right wing of his party, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan offered to give up insurance mandates that protect women’s access to maternity care and birth control.

Even before party leadership sacrificed maternal care, the bill included language that would carve abortion out from other medical costs — effectively making it more expensive for women on both market and employee plans — and a measure that would result in preventing women who use Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, STD testing, and contraceptive consultations from being able to access care.

And while this may be par for the course in the recent years of the GOP, that in itself also a sign of how extreme the party has become. Family planning services, contraceptive care, and even Planned Parenthood used to be popular initiatives with Republicans. Prescott Bush — George H.W. Bush’s father, grandfather of George W. and Jeb, served as Planned Parenthood’s treasurer. Peggy Goldwater — wife of then far-right Barry Goldwater — helped found Planned Parenthood of Arizona.

But over time, the party has moved further and further right on issues of reproductive rights, and linked issues like contraception access to abortion — even as they embraced a more and more anti-abortion platform.

Fast forward to 2017, where the White House is doing all in its power to restrict abortion at home and around the world — even if it means endangering women’s lives. On his first day in office (while surrounded by men), President Trump signed a bill reinstating the so-called “Global Gag Rule,” which makes it difficult for women around the world to receive accurate information regarding their medical choices.

And on Tuesday, Trump halted all grants to the United Nations Population Fund — a global maternal health organization that provided contraceptive access to 800,000 people around the world and prevented an estimated 100,000 unsafe abortions and 10,000 maternal deaths. By halting U.S. grants, Trump effectively pulled 7 percent of the organization’s budget.

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