Virginia's Big-Government Conservatism

Republicans in the Old Dominion hate government regulations-except when they don't.


If there's one thing Virginia's leading Republicans agree on, it's government regulation. They're against it.

"Keep taxes and regulation and litigation low," Gov. Bob McDonnell said in 2009 when he was asked how to make Virginia business-friendly. It's a tune he sings often. "Low taxes, regulation, (and) litigation," he answered when FOX's Neil Cavuto asked how Virginia encourages hiring. "It is the free enterprise system and the private sector that create wealth and opportunity, not government. And that's a fundamental difference."

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling agrees. As his campaign website boasts, Bolling "consistently promoted lower taxes, less regulation and a smaller, more efficient state government." Therefore, Bolling "sponsored legislation requiring an economic impact study before new regulations could be imposed on small businesses in Virginia." Under the section headed "Creating Jobs," Bolling stresses the importance of "eliminating overly burdensome regulations."

The same goes for state Sen. Ryan McDougle. When he was sworn in for his second term in 2008, McDougle promised, among other things, to ensure that "you are not burdened with intrusive new government regulations."

But a commitment to the principle of laissez-faire evidently goes only so far. Because this year McDougle sponsored the legislation requiring the Department of Health to write tough new regulations for abortion clinics. The board has now done so, and will vote on them next Thursday.

McDonnell signed McDougle's measure into law—apparently without a qualm and perhaps even enthusiastically. Bolling cast the tie-breaking state Senate vote that enabled him do so.

In their defense, the trio might say they favor low government regulation—not zero regulation. But that would be a pretty lame dodge.

For one thing, abortion clinics were not regulation-free zones before McDougle's bill came along. They were governed like dentists and other outpatient surgical offices. The new regulations require them to meet architectural, staffing, and other standards that apply to full-service hospitals.

Nor have supporters of the legislation presented evidence that Virginia's existing regulations were inadequate. Pro-life advocates offer a lot of fire-and-brimstone rhetoric about fear-mongering by a secretive, politically protected industry. They don't offer any hard facts to show that Virginia's abortion clinics are unsafe. Ninety-six percent of the abortions in Virginia occur in the first trimester, and 99.5 percent of first-trimester abortions require no follow-up medical care.

Pro-choice advocates are right: The new rules are nothing but a thinly disguised attempt to hamper and incommode abortion clinics by people who consider abortion wrong.

Not, mind you, that liberals have any standing to object. Because that is precisely what progressives have tried to do to industries of which they disapprove—payday lenders, for example.

Indeed, it is an article of progressive faith that private enterprise is motivated by greed and therefore not to be trusted. The firm hand of government must check its rapacious indifference to the public good, which often manifests itself in a tendency to exploit the most vulnerable members of our national community—minorities and women in particular.

Well. African-American women happen to have abortions at rates far higher than white women, and pro-life groups have noted with some asperity the less-than-progressive views of the supposed untermenschen held by Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger. What's more, abortion is good money—Planned Parenthood alone rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars from the procedure.

Put all that together and you get: poor black women disproportionately paying an organization founded by a eugenicist to kill their children in utero. It almost sounds like a Klansman's dream. It certainly sounds like something government should keep a watchful eye on, from a progressive perspective.

Yet now that Virginia is poised to do so, progressives are sounding like honor students from the Murray Rothbard School of Austrian Economics: The government is nothing but a bunch of gangsters, imposing unnecessary costs that are not backed up by sound science, that threaten to shut down businesses, and that interfere with people's personal decisions. Why, the Board of Health even wants regulators to make unannounced inspections! The horror.
Unfortunately for conservatives, the lack of principled consistency on the left does not absolve them of their own double standard.

Earlier this year one of the major players in the debate took note of the Heritage Foundation's annual Index of Economic Freedom, on which America had slipped to ninth place. "It's ironic that while the rest of the world is moving toward economic freedom," the group complained, the U.S. "has retreated from liberty. …We now live in a period where big government …threatens our liberty with ever-increasing control over our decisions."

That lament appeared on the blog of the Family Foundation—the chief cheerleader for Virginia's new clinic rules.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.