Analysis Politics

Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall Has Spent Decades Promoting Anti-Choice Views

Ally Boguhn

With his far-right record on LGBTQ issues already on blast in his bid for re-election, Marshall's record on restricting reproductive rights and freedoms may not be far behind.

In his bid to keep his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, Republican Bob Marshall’s record on issues affecting the LGBTQ community have thrust him back into the national spotlight, but his extreme stances also extend to abortion and contraception.

In Virginia in 2014, 92 percent of counties had no clinics that offered abortion care, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and 78 percent of Virginia women lived in those counties. Since he took office in the state, Marshall has worked to see those numbers increase.

Marshall’s work as an anti-choice advocate began decades ago when he worked at the anti-choice American Life Lobby in the 1980s. He continued to work for what apparently became known as the American Life League (ALL), even after he began to represent District 13. The organization formed in 1979 after its founders broke from the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) because, according to a 2006 investigative document produced by Catholics for Choice—which refers to the American Life Lobby and the American Life League as the same group—they deemed the NRLC “too moderate.” Even many far-right conservatives and anti-choice advocates have condemned ALL as too extreme.

Chief among ALL’s extreme views is the condemnation of birth control methods such as the pill and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

As ALL spokesperson, Marshall lauded a 1985 policy shift by the Agency for International Development to allow overseas organizations promoting “natural family planning”—also known as the rhythm method, through which women track menstrual cycles and abstain from sex during the period when they are ostensibly most fertile—to forgo telling patients about contraceptive options. Under the policy change, groups offering contraception were required to also tell women about the rhythm method. Speaking to the Associated Press at the time, Marshall falsely claimed that “birth control leads to abortion.”

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A few years later, Marshall, who was by that point ALL’s research director, spoke to then-Boston Globe reporter Bella English and again railed against contraceptives. “We’re against the IUD and pills, too,” Marshall said, falsely claiming that these methods of birth control cause abortions.

Over the course of the interview, Marshall also said that legal abortion and birth control were responsible for any number of society’s ills, from matters of military and economic security to a supposed increase in sexual assaults. He went as far as to tell the columnist, “In Florida, retirees are working at McDonald’s because there’s not enough kids to do it.”

When asked if abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest, Marshall replied: “What if incest is voluntary?”

“Sometimes it is,” he went on, later adding that in instances of sexual assault “Your origins should not be held against you,” seemingly referencing to the fetus.

When asked by the Washington Times in 2014, Marshall stood by these comments. He claimed, according to the outlet, “the author [of the Globe piece] was missing the point and that the position is based on what is written in law.”

“It doesn’t make it right or legal,” Marshal told the Times. “It just gives the facts.”

During his initial run in 1991 to represent Virginia’s then-newly formed 13th state house District, abortion played a role in the race. Democratic candidate Dale Reynolds attempted to highlight Marshall’s “extremist” background on the issue, according to a  Washington Post Virginia Weekly report from October of that year. Ultimately, Marshall prevailed and began his long tenure in Virginia politics.

It didn’t take long for Marshall to begin legislating based on his anti-choice beliefs. In 1993, the Washington Post reported that the new Virginia delegate had already made a name for himself as “a constant presence on the floor, crusading against abortion, Norplant, sex education, feminists and ‘eco-terrorists’” during his first term.

That same year, Marshall introduced a measure requiring young women under the age of 18 to notify their parents and the parents of their sexual partner before obtaining an abortion. He’d later introduce a similar measure in subsequent years.

Over the course of his time in the Virginia House of Delegates, Marshall has continued to be a reliable anti-choice vote and has continuously introduced other extreme measures restricting access to reproductive health care. In the last seven years alone, he has introduced at least 15 measures and amendments specifically pertaining to abortion, including failed attempts to further regulate abortion providers. Perhaps most notably, Marshall co-sponsored Virginia’s infamous “transvaginal” ultrasound bill, which required those seeking an abortion to have an invasive ultrasound.

In a 2012 interview with HuffPost, Marshall told the outlet that he also went out of his way to insert anti-choice amendments into unrelated legislation to force other members to go on the record with their abortion positions. “For example, I might amend a bill that deals with life insurance to say the child killed in utero should be recognized as a legal person,” Marshall said, seemingly referring to so-called personhood measures. “Just put that in there and stipulate it. I’ve seen massive shifts on lobbying and delegates pulling their bills because they know I’ll amend them and that I know how to do it in a germane way.”

He later said “it doesn’t bother him that his anti-abortion amendments might kill or stall an important bill,” according to HuffPost.

Marshall has been a longtime advocate for “personhood” measures, a type of legislation that typically seeks to grant legal protections to embryos and fetuses and could outlaw many forms of contraception as well as abortion. He was the primary sponsor of several failed measures and amendments seeking to make that position into law in Virginia. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Marshall’s attempt to pass such legislation in 2012 would have laid the legal groundwork to ban abortion without exception.” Talking points on the bill pushed by Marshall on the subject when he was up for re-election in 2013 denied that his bill would have further restricted abortion or contraceptive access. 

More recently, Marshall has sought to temper his position on reproductive rights by introducing measures purporting to ensure women are not arrested for using contraception or having an abortion should abortion be criminalized or his “personhood” amendments pass.

However, women are already being punished for abortion—including a Virginia woman that state prosecutors allege induced a later abortion.

While many of Marshall’s favored measures specifically pertained to abortion rights, he has also objected to less controversial legislation.

In 2003, Marshall waged a particularly contentious war against emergency contraception. According to an account of the matter published that year in Time, Marshall was “outraged” upon learning that a state-funded university had provided the so-called morning after pill, which he falsely claimed amounts to abortion, to students at least 2,000 times since 1995. The Virginia delegate penned a letter on the matter to James Madison University that subsequently caused the campus to review its policy and cease providing the pills. Ultimately, the college reversed that decision. 

The following year, he introduced a measure that would have prohibited “any public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth from making available the morning-after pill in its delivery of health care services to students.”

When Virginia moved to mandate to vaccinate sixth-grade girls in the state for the human papillomavirus, Marshall initially introduced a measure to delay that vaccination requirement in 2010, and later attempted to take it off the books entirely.

He has relied on falsehoods about contraception to push his views on the issue, including his opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. During a 2014 debate on the topic, he reportedly falsely claimed that access to contraception was as simple as going “to Walmart and pay[ing] $9 a month,” adding that “you can go out and buy this if you want; don’t compel me to do it.”

And in February of this year, Marshall was the sole member of the Virginia House of Delegates to vote against the Birth Control Access Act, legislation allowing pharmacists in the state to give women with a doctor’s prescription a year’s worth of birth control pills.

In Virginia, reproductive rights have long been a key election-year issue. Gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle have already continuously clashed throughout the 2017 election cycle on the issue, as the victor of that race will act as the final barrier on related legislation.

All 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, including Marshall’s, will be up for re-election this November. With Marshall’s far-right record on LGBTQ issues already on blast in his bid for re-election, his record on reproductive rights and freedoms may not be far behind.

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