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James Harder’s attack on his opponent distracts from the real issues in the House of Delegates race.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
A legislator’s voting record is fair game in a political campaign, and Del. Joseph Yost’s support for the so-called “personhood” bill last year is a legitimate topic for voters to consider as they decide whether to give the Pearisburg Republican a second term.
But Democratic challenger James Harder crossed the line into impropriety when he authorized a brochure accusing Yost of supporting “a plan that would force police to investigate women when they have a miscarriage.”
Harder had no way to know that Yost’s wife had had two miscarriages in the past year.
But once he knew, he should have acknowledged that his brochure strayed from an appropriate criticism of his opponent’s legislative record and into a purple and personal attack. Indeed, even absent a revelation of the Yosts’ tragic losses, Harder should have recognized that the brochure went too far.
Harder should have apologized immediately, but he did not. In his refusal, he has distracted from what otherwise would be a relevant issue in the campaign.
The personhood bill declared that life begins at conception and attempted to give full legal protections to embryos. The sponsor of the measure, Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, acknowledged that he hoped the legislation would allow Virginia to outlaw abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision in the future. Opponents of the bill also argued that it would ban access to contraceptives. In response to another criticism, that the bill would subject women who have had miscarriages to criminal charges or civil lawsuits, a clarification was included in an effort to satisfy those concerns.
Whether or not that provision would have achieved its stated purpose cannot be known. The bill was defeated in the state Senate. But Yost says he believed at the time of his vote for the bill that the provision resolved the issue. There is no proof that his vote for the bill was motivated by a desire to punish women who have had miscarriages, a suggestion that is beyond the pale.
Yost is not easily stereotyped. His conservative voting record on social issues is in line with deeply held personal beliefs, but he has not allowed those issues to dominate his agenda in the General Assembly. He voted for the controversial measure requiring women to submit to an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion, but he has broken with his party on other issues, including the election of a gay man to a judgeship.
Voters should weigh Yost’s record in its entirely in determining whether they want him to continue as their delegate. Regardless of their decision, they can make that call without turning him into a monster.
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