VA Republicans closing in on birth control.

It’s no secret that Delegate Bob Marshall (R – Manassas) is one of the looniest bastards in the Virginia General Assembly. A devout Catholic, Marshall thinks that everybody else ought to be forced to follow the same belief structure that he does. In early 2002, citing the September 11th attacks, he introduced a bill requiring that “In God We Trust” signs be posted in every public school. Because the Virginia Republicans in the General Assembly are largely pathetic sycophants, they pass laws like this with alarming regularity. In the same session, he introduced four bills limiting the availability of abortions. In 2003, Marshall introduced five nearly-identical versions of the same bill that would severely restrict abortion clinics. They were pretty appalling. HB 1549, for example, sought to restrict the availability of abortions to locations within 15 miles of a hospital. This is a terrible thing to do to women in impoverished portions of Virginia that are much, much farther from hospitals than that, and often don’t have the means of transportation to get to a hospital. Another bill regulates abortion clinics as doctors’ offices, such that they must have all of the equipment and meet all of the standards as if they were surgical centers. Even some Republicans — such Delegate Robert Orrock — say that bills like these are “gobbledygook.”

Then there’s Marhsall’s new buddy Mark Obenshain. Obenshain was on the Board of Visitors at James Madison University until a few months ago. This spring, Marshall started sending letters to colleges around the state, including JMU, demanding that they stop providing birth control pills in the concentrated form known as “morning after pills.” These emergency contraceptives have the effect of a few birth control pills, and are taken in case pregnancy may occur, as in the case of condom breakage or rape. They are only effective when taken prior to the implantation of a fertilized egg in the wall of the uterus — that is, prior to pregnancy. They’re not abortion pills, and have nothing to do with drugs like RU-486. Marshall was upset that these were being made available to adults attending colleges in Virginia, because his religion eschews the use of birth control. At most colleges, such as the University of Virginia, Marshall was told to shove it. But not at JMU. Mark Obenshain, a man who has never made any secret about his political aspirations, saw an opening. He planned to run for the State Senate in the November 2003 election, and knew an opportunity when he saw it. Obenshain persuaded his fellow Board of Visitors members to see things Marshall’s way, and they immediately halted the availablility of morning-after pills at JMU. Obenshain argued that not only should JMU not be giving out morning-after pills, but he didn’t think that any colleges should be providing birth control of any sort.

This went over like a lead balloon among JMU students. They launched the biggest-ever, fastest-ever petition drive that JMU has ever seen, collecting 2,714 signatures in a single day. Obenshain positively glowed with the success of the move. In an editorial, the Virginian-Pilot lamented that the Republican Party’s goal was a ban of contraceptives. The statement was particularly strong given that they’d come to the opposite conclusion just a few weeks previously, prior to the Marshall Plan going into effect. They even looked at Delegate Marshall’s radical Catholic agenda, and concluded that Marshall is as much an extremist as he was when he was first elected a decade ago. Only then he was called an extremist by Republicans. Now, the Virginia Republicans have become so extremely right-wing that he’s merely a moderate.

Mark Obenshain’s campaign is now fully under way. His website tells us that he wants to “speak out…for the principles of individual liberty and limited constitutional government that are the heart of the greatness of this Commonwealth.” Never mind that this is the exact opposite of his beliefs, as demonstrated by his actions.

Virginians with an interest in politics past and present will recognize the name “Obenshain.” Mark Obenshain’s father was Richard Obenshain, a prominent Republican who helped to rebuild the party and take it back to parity with the Democrats. Just after being nominated for the U.S. Senate, he died in a plane crash, leaving him with martyr-like status among area Republicans. (Incidentally, it was then that John Warner, then husband of Elizabeth Taylor, stepped into the race as the replacement for Obenshain. Warner holds that seat to this day, and some Virginia Republicans are still bitter about that.)

Then there’s Mark Obenshain’s sister — Richard Obenshain’s daughter — who has just recently come to prominence. By “just recently” I mean, of course, “today.” Kate Obenshain Griffin has been elected the first-ever female chairwoman of the Virginia Republican Party. It’s the Republicans’ hope that, by appointing a female, they can help people forget the wiretapping scandal that brought down the entirety of the Virginia party leadership over the past few years. Griffin replaces Gary Thompson, who just resigned a month ago after pleading guilty to misdemeanor wiretapping. Griffin’s opinions regarding birth control are not known, but her comments regarding her large family in an August 2002 interview, her brother’s beliefs, and her party’s beliefs make the conclusion an obvious one. Griffin argues that her family has nothing to do with her sudden prominence position within the party:

“It’s not about Phil, it’s not about my brother, and it’s not about my father,” she said. “It’s about me and my ability to lead the Republican Party.”

This new leadership in the Virginia Republican Party is a frightening indicator of what’s to come. The Republicans’ support for Marshall and Obenshain’s anti-birth control stance is likely to go from tacit endorsement to a plank on their platform. With their hold on both the House and the Senate, there is little to stop Republicans from passing any restrictions that they see fit, banning birth control outright in a matter of years or even months.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »