RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- In a secretly recorded video, Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin said he is limiting anti-abortion comments on the campaign trail to avoid turning off independent voters.
The video that sparked the controversy features Lauren Windsor, the executive producer of the grassroots political web-show “The Undercurrent.” Windsor–a liberal activist–is posing as a pro-life voter at an event she says was on June 17th in Middleburg, Virginia.
In the recording, Windsor asks Youngkin if he would support defunding Planned Parenthood and a bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, both of which have been passed in Republican-led states.
Initially, Youngkin assures Windsor that he is “staunchly and unabashedly” pro-life. He accuses Democrats of using the issue of abortion to divide voters “when in fact there is such common ground.”
When another person off camera asks again, “Can we defund Planned Parenthood and take it to the abortionists,” Youngkin gets candid.
“I’m going to be really honest with you. The short answer is, in this campaign, I can’t. When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House we can start going on offense. But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get,” Youngkin said.
“So you’ll never hear me support Planned Parenthood. What you’ll hear me talk about is actually taking back the radical abortion policies that Virginians don’t want,” he continues.
The video was released on Wednesday night.
On Thursday, Youngkin declined to do an interview to clarify his comments and his stance on abortion.
In a statement, Youngkin’s spokesperson Matthew Wolking said in part, “In this deceptively recorded video, Youngkin was pressed to support lots of different policies, and he didn’t. Youngkin supports funding for women’s health centers, believes that fewer abortions is a good thing, supports exceptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger.”
While Wolking’s comments assert that Youngkin supports funding for “women’s health centers,” Youngkin also said in the video that the state needs to stop using taxpayer money for abortions.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, public funds can be used for abortion services in limited circumstances, including when the pregnancy results from rape, the women’s life is in danger and the fetus is believed to have an “incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency.”
In a statement, Virginia League for Planned Parenthood Communications Director Rae Pickett said, “The intended impact of all defund bills is to eliminate access to care through Planned Parenthood health centers. Politicians like Youngkin are willing to cut off access to a wide range of reproductive care and primary care.”
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who was chosen as the Democratic nominee in the 2021 race, claims Youngkin is trying to hide his extreme views from voters.
“He’s a fraud. He’s lying to Virginians,” McAuliffe said in an interview on Thursday.
Wolking didn’t directly respond when asked if Youngkin would support restoring abortion restrictions recently repealed by Virginia’s Democratic majority, including state-mandated counseling, ultrasounds and a 24-hour waiting period before proceeding with an abortion.
Instead, Youngkin’s campaign critisized former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s previous support for a failed bill that would’ve lowered the number of doctors who need to sign off on a late term abortion and reduced the standard for when it’s acceptable.
Currently, Virginia law allows third-trimester abortions in hospitals only if three physicians certify that “the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
Princess Blanding, who is running as an Independent for governor, said in a statement that candidates should be transparent about their views on the campaign trail.
“We must protect and expand upon reproductive freedoms in Virginia and otherwise ban government interference in peoples’ reproductive health decisions,” Blanding said. “It is imperative that Virginians have clear and safe access to abortion, but reproductive freedom does not stop there. We must push further to make health care and support systems available for all people regardless of choice.”
Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb, a loud critic of Democratic abortion policies in Virginia, defended Youngkin’s comments.
In a phone interview, 8News asked Cobb if the Republican nominee should be a more vocal supporter of fetal heartbeat bans and defunding Planned Parenthood.
“His comments are about emphasis and being a candidate that speaks to what is first and foremost on the voter’s mind when they go to the ballot box, which are kitchen table issues,” Cobb said. “Virginians tend to avoid extremes on abortion and McAuliffe is the extreme.”
McAuliffe said his party should go further to ensure abortion rights are protected.
“I would like to enshrine the protections of Roe v. Wade in the State Constitution. I would like to take it to the next level because I do worry about the new United States Supreme Court,” McAuliffe said.