Pro-Life Virginia Lawmaker Offers Pro-Choice Bill

Legislation would let most employers opt out of the contraception requirements


Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), the most notorious legislator in Virginia, is like the broken clock in the adage: Egregiously wrong much of the time but right on the dot now and then.

It is hard to know which Marshall abhors more—gays and lesbians, or a woman's right to control her body. He sponsored Virginia's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and tried to get openly gay men banned from the Virginia National Guard (because "If I needed a blood transfusion and the guy next to me had committed sodomy 14 times in the last month, I'd be worried"). This past February, his GOP colleagues backed away from a bill requiring transvaginal ultrasounds of women seeking abortion. Marshall did not: "There's no reason to," he said. He once sponsored a bill to prevent unmarried women from conceiving children through medically assisted means.

Last year Marshall introduced a fiercely debated fetal-personhood bill. That bill was carried over, which means it will come up for debate again when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 9. Marshall also has filed legislation to forbid abortion for the purposes of sex selection. He might have more bills up his sleeve (he often does). Progressives will have plenty of reasons to shake their fists at him.

But they should cut him a break when it comes to contraception. On that issue, he has taken the truly pro-choice position and they have not.

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—Obamacare for short—forces employers to provide coverage for birth control. After outraged Catholics erupted in protest last year, the Obama administration offered a compromise—of sorts—exempting certain religious institutions, at least on paper if not in practice. Marshall's legislation would expand the exemption by letting most employers opt out of the contraception requirements.

Naturally, this has provoked groups such as Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia—whose director, Cianti Stewart-Reid, thinks "politicians should stay out of women's health."

Well. Politicians who did that would not merely allow exceptions to Obamacare. They would repeal it—along with cigarette taxes designed to discourage smoking and seatbelt laws meant to make drivers buckle up. Keep your laws off my body, as the saying goes.

This is not exactly what abortion-rights activists generally mean, however. In fact, the debate over the contraception mandates has been marked by a level of Newspeak you don't usually find outside the pages of Orwell. All of it has flowed from the pro-mandate side.

Example; Marshall notes that under Obamacare, the arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby could be fined more than $1 million a day if its Christian owners decline to offer coverage of contraception for employees. (Hobby Lobby is challenging the mandate in court.) Planned Parenthood's Stewart-Reid retorts that "our laws provide for people's ability to practice [their faith] as they choose, but it doesn't mean that we get to impose our views on other people."

But Hobby Lobby is not imposing its views on other people. Hobby Lobby is not telling its employees they may not use contraception, any more than it is telling them they can't own firearms because it doesn't give every employee a free Smith & Wesson. Or as Marshall puts it: "If an employer doesn't buy his employees steak, he isn't compelling them to be vegetarians."

Nor is Hobby Lobby telling other companies, such as Home Depot or Target, that they cannot provide contraception coverage to their own employees. Hobby Lobby is pretty much leaving other people alone to follow their own consciences.

That is more than you can say for Planned Parenthood and other mandate supporters, who are indeed forcing their own views on other people. Obviously, they think they have good reasons to. But their having reasons does not change the fact that force—i.e., the government—is involved. At their request.

One simple fix could dismiss all of this controversy, by the way: Follow the recommendation of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and sell contraception over the counter.

In the heat of debate over the contraception mandate last spring, the president of the National Organization for Women fumed that Catholic bishops were "demanding that the government step in and use the force and power and police power of the state to prevent women from taking birth control." This is such a perfect inversion of the truth that somewhere up in Heaven, Orwell must be doffing an imaginary cap.

Although Marshall's legislation seeks to preserve employer choice, you obviously can't call Marshall pro-choice himself. In too many other areas, he really does want the government to step in and use the police power of the state to impose his values on other people. Funny; as it turns out, that's something he and his fiercest critics have in common.