Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia gave Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam its endorsement in the looming gubernatorial race a day after his Republican opponent said he was in favor of defunding the health-care provider.
“Virginians want a fierce and proven champion for women and families, like Dr. Ralph Northam,” Jennifer Allen, CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates for Virginia and Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC, said in a Thursday statement.
Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC plans to invest $3 million in hopes of electing Northam to the state’s top office. That money will be spent on sending volunteers and canvassers to knock on an estimated 300,000 doors, and mail outreach to 400,000 people.
“In his career, he has worked diligently to improve access to health care, increase the availability of vital long-acting reversible contraceptives, and protect every woman’s right to make the best choices for herself and her family,” Allen said in her statement. “Dr. Ralph Northam will be an unwavering ally in protecting Virginians access to health care.”
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Northam called Planned Parenthood a “trusted provider for thousands of Virginians” and promised in a statement that he would “be a brick wall on attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care and continue championing a woman’s ability to keep her health care decisions between herself and her doctor.”
Reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia had already endorsed Northam when he was vying against former Congressman Tom Perriello for his party’s nomination. The group pointed to Northam’s track record both as lieutenant governor and as a state senator as justification for its support.
While serving in the Virginia General Assembly, Northam fought against abortion restrictions such as the GOP’s forced ultrasound measure. Northam criticized the efforts of Virginia Republicans to pass restrictions on reproductive rights in a May Q&A with Rewire, suggesting that the measures had been an attempt “to shame women when they make a decision that really should be between them, their partner, and their provider.”
Planned Parenthood’s endorsement of Northam comes just one day after a supporter of the group confronted Republican candidate Ed Gillespie about whether he would defund the provider should he be elected governor. Gillespie’s threat to defund Planned Parenthood is far from hollow in a state with a legislature dominated by anti-choice Republicans.
“I would sign a bill that does not have taxpayer funding go to Planned Parenthood,” Gillespie told Sarah Smith, a supporter of the organization, in an exchange at a campaign event captured on video and posted to Twitter.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a related measure in February when it came across his desk. The Republican-backed legislation would have stopped the state’s health department from entering into contracts with or giving grants to organizations that provide non-federally qualified abortion care.
Smith, speaking to Rewire by phone on Thursday, explained that she had confronted Gillespie on the subject because he had blocked her on Twitter following efforts to ask him questions.
“I am a hearing officer—I do Medicaid appeals—and I see people everyday that need health care, they need Medicaid,” she said. “And Planned Parenthood provides health-care services to people in the area, and I’ve actually been to Planned Parenthood myself.”
Smith, who recently lost a bid to run as the Democratic nominee for the state’s House of Delegates in District 73, said her local clinic also provided primary care. “I’m trying to raise awareness about it so people know that it is an option,” she said. “There is a place they can go, and it serves a lot of women.”
When asked about Gillespie’s response to her question, Smith said she was “disappointed” with his position. “I do appreciate him taking the time to answer my question,” she said, adding that she “was hoping that he would at least commit to keeping funding in place, because this is funding that goes to serve Medicaid patients.”
Smith said that “to take the funding away is just really horrible, it’s upsetting, and it feels like an attack on women, to be honest with you.”
“It feels like trying to disrupt health-care access for women,” she said.
Gillespie said during an April candidate forum that he “would like to see abortion be banned,” though his campaign later clarified that he supports exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Anti-choice group the National Right to Life Committee endorsed the Republican in June. His campaign website says he would support and sign a 20-week abortion ban, which is based on the medically dubious claim that a fetus can feel pain at that point in a pregnancy.
The Gillespie campaign did not respond to requests for comment.