Storm Warning: Prepare for Hurricane Ken 

by Caitlin Bancroft

Pro-Choice Virginians, I have a really bad feeling.  My ovaries are freaking out and I have this crazy urge to stock pile birth control. But I think I know what is causing me to panic. Storm season has begun and Hurricane Ken is headed right for us.

Wait there a minute!! Before you start complaining about overly dramatic weathermen and crazy political commentators, please take a moment and check out the data for yourself.  You may find that I’m actually underreacting

First, here is what we know about hurricanes:
  • They are twisted doom-disseminators that rain destruction.
  • They are so large that we always see them coming, but they still scare us to death when they hit.
  • Long before they become actual threats, they start as harmless swirls of hot air.
  • Once they have started to rotate, they will continue to grow more powerful and more destructive until they no longer have the ocean’s heat to fuel them.
Now, here is what we know about Ken Cuccinelli:
  • He is a harsh, ruthless politician who advocates for discrimination and exudes condemnation.
  • He’s been up to the same old tricks for a while now, but that doesn’t make his presence less disturbing.
  • Before we elected him, he just a man with a head full of hot air and bad ideas.
  • From the first moment he took office, he has used his influence to wage an ever worsening war on the women of Virginia.
Ok ok, I know. You are already complaining about flimsy metaphors and looking up the Wikipedia page on hurricanes..”Where’s the proof?”, you ask. After all, you are not gonna run off and start barricading women’s health clinics without evidence of actual danger. Well, ladies and gentlemen, let’s survey the damage.

When Cuccinelli first showed up on our radar, he was more of an annoyance than a concern. We’re Virginians -- he wasn't our first anti-choice legislator and he certainly won’t be our last. But Cuccinelli was not content with preaching to the base and voting against the occasional comprehensive sex education proposal. It didn’t take long before we realized that he was a whole different kind of zealot. 
During his first two years in the senate, Cuccinelli patroned or co-patroned six different anti-choice bills. His legislation included a parental consent requirement, a “partial-birth abortion” ban, mandatory adoption information on the consent forms for an abortion, and a state-funded abortion alternatives awareness campaigns. Also there was this lovely bill mandating that doctors must anesthetize every fetus older than 12 weeks before any abortion in “a manner suitable for patients undergoing amputation.” If the physician failed to anesthetize correctly, then he or she would be charged with class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $2,500 fine. An impressive career record for anti-choice legislator, but this was just the beginning for Hurricane Ken.

Over the next five legislative sessions, Cuccinelli championed another eight anti-choice bills to attack reproductive freedom from every angle.. He tried to close Virginia’s clinics in 2005 with a proposed TRAP bill that would impose more stringent restrictions on the licensure process. When that wasn’t successful, Ken decided that he wanted the state of Virginia to imprison doctors for providing contraception to minors if the person “knew or had reason to believe” that the minor was sleeping with someone 3+ years older than themselves. Because duh, the way to protect young women is to bully their doctors into withholding birth control. Then, to add insult to injury, Cuccinelli demanded that doctors preserve the products of conception and fetal tissue from abortions performed on girls under the age of 15. So that when a young woman in Virginia gets an abortion because she couldn’t get birth control, the government gets to run intrusive tests without her consent. Because apparently in Ken’s mind, it’s more important to restrict reproductive healthcare than to actually offer resources and guidance to vulnerable youth. And we’re just getting started.

Even after years of attacking abortion access, Cuccinelli apparently felt that his efforts were insubstantial. Therefore in 2007 he went nuclear and co-patroned a “personhood bill” with his bff (and current GOP candidate for attorney general)  Senator Mark Obenshain. It is difficult to imagine a more destructive piece of legislation than a bill which grants the “right to enjoyment of life” to every fertilized egg. Most conspicuously, the legislation would have laid the legal groundwork to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortion in the state of Virginia – without exceptions for life, incest, or danger to the life of the women. It would also have outlawed several common forms of birth control and even some infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization.  Fortunately, that atrocious bill did not pass. But in a last hoorah, Hurricane Ken championed the creation of special CHOOSE LIFE license plates to fund Virginia’s crisis pregnancy centers  – anti-choice facilities that lie to vulnerable women in an attempt to dissuade them from considering abortion.  Since Cuccinelli’s budget amendment passed in 2009, over $200,000 has been funneled to Virginia CPCs.

Which brings us to Ken’s arguably greatest achievement in his fight against women’s health: TRAP. In 2009, Hurricane Ken was elected to the office of attorney general. As the official legal adviser to the state of Virginia, the attorney general is supposed to be an unbiased officer who advocates on behalf of the state. But Ken Cuccinelli was not about to waste his new-found power on silly things like fighting unconstitutional laws. During his first year as attorney general, Hurricane Ken issued an official legal opinion of the state concluding that the Virginia Department of Health had the power to institute TRAP laws (and require abortion clinics to meet hospital standards of construction and care). But it was clearly just a coincidence that he was giving the state legislature permission to pass a bill that he had once patroned, right? I’m sure there was no bias involved when he gave his  anti-choice buddies in the General Assembly a thumbs-up to regulate our clinics out of existence.  Um…NO.

As expected, the Virginia General Assembly took the wink-nudge-nod and passed an extremely stringent TRAP bill in 2011. The new targeted restrictions of abortion providers (TRAP) reclassified every clinic that performs more than 5 abortions a month as a type of hospital. As such, each abortion clinic would have to undergo extensive renovations or be forced to relocate in order continue providing health care.

The suggested regulations were passed on to the Virginia Board of Health, who actually listened to medical professionals, precedent, and reason and decided to grandfather-in VA’s existing clinics, exempting them from these burdensome laws. Well, Hurricane Ken was not having it. In  a classic display of arrogance and ruthlessness, Ken Cuccinelli refused to certify the new regulations with the grandfather provision. He told the Board of Health that they were overreaching by granting an exception to current clinics; furthermore, he warned them that if they were sued, the attorney general’s office would not represent them. Seriously – the top lawyer in the Commonwealth actually threatened to refuse to protect the state from lawsuits. Unsurprisingly, the Board of Health heeded Cuccinelli’s threat and removed the grandfather clause, officially approving the new rules in April of this year. In the three months since its vote, two of Virginia’s women’s health centers have closed, and more are expected to follow. Only 1 of our remaining 18 clinics is currently TRAP compliant.  

I think it’s pretty obvious Virginians: We are facing down a storm of epic proportions. Hurricane Ken has been developing for years, and we know just how ruthless he is. Fortunately, we have the chance this year to stop the damage by defeating Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial bid & kicking him out of office for good. Gov. Ken Cuccinelli is a storm that Virginia will not weather well  -- and we cannot afford the devastation it will cause. If you have never heeded the warnings before, now is the time to get concerned – and we need your help to sound the sirens. To fight back, check out NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s website and blog, and follow us on facebook, tumblr and twitter to stay involved.

Thanks for your help, fellow fierce feminist storm-troopers!

Caitlin Bancroft is a legal intern at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and a disaster movie enthusiast. You can follow her on Twitter @caitbanc and share her feminist outrage on libertytochoose.tumblr.com.