In at least one notable way, Virginia Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe’s campaign messaging around reproductive health and his shortlist for cabinet appointments appear to be at odds.
In the lead-up to this year’s gubernatorial election—an election in which women’s reproductive rights played a decisive role—McAuliffe said on his campaign website, “We can’t put up walls or send the signal that Virginia is moving backward on important issues like women’s health.” During one campaign event, an attendee recorded him responding to questions about his stance on reproductive rights with, “I will be a brick wall to stop any erosion of any constitutional right that any woman has in Virginia. I will be a brick wall.”
But according to reports that began to circulate shortly after he won the election against Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, McAuliffe is considering retaining Dr. Bill Hazel, the secretary of Health and Human Resources under Gov. Bob McDonnell. McDonnell became the focus of national attention, and scorn, last year after pushing a bill that, as originally written, would have subjected women to forced vaginal probes prior to receiving an abortion in the state.
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Hazel, who was originally appointed to the post in 2010, was involved in an effort to salvage McDonnell’s reputation after signing the ultrasound bill. The resulting “compromise” that Hazel may have helped craft in a small-group, closed-door meeting resulted in Gov. McDonnell signing a law that mandates costly and medically unnecessary ultrasounds prior to abortion. Under the law, abdominal ultrasounds are mandatory regardless of whether they will produce visible images; doctors may still offer transvaginal ultrasounds to women, who may not be aware they are legally entitled to refuse them. Women are, moreover, forced to pay for these additional procedures, irrespective of medical need, although some crisis pregnancy centers have begun to offer free ultrasounds that are provided along with inaccurate information to women seeking abortions.
Hazel has worked closely with fellow McDonnell appointee Matt Cobb, the deputy secretary of Health and Human Resources, on matters pertaining to abortion and reproductive rights, especially on interpreting and implementing stringent new clinic regulations that have resulted in the closure of two abortion clinics and a pending lawsuit against the Virginia Board of Health. Cobb’s wife, Victoria Cobb, is president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, which states on its website that it “works from the belief that human life from fertilization to natural death is sacred, and the right to life is foundational to all other rights.”
The Washington Post has reported that retaining Hazel might be seen as a way to help Governor-Elect McAuliffe sell Medicaid expansion to Republicans in the Virginia legislature. Such a move would represent a shift for Hazel, who in 2010 attended the signing of the Virginia Healthcare Freedom Act, a piece of state legislation in opposition to the Affordable Care Act. At that event, Gov. McDonnell shared his opinion that the Affordable Care Act violates the U.S. Constitution.