WINCHESTER, VIRGINIA — In a windowless Elks Lodge ballroom on Saturday, a group of about 50 white and elderly Republicans dined on barbecue and sheet cake as they listened to a brief campaign pitch from Barbara Comstock, who is running to represent Northern Virginia in the House of Representatives.
In a conversation with ThinkProgress following her speech, Comstock said she’s on board with the growing list of Republicans endorsing over-the-counter birth control. “It would be more accessible,” she said. “Instead of having to get to the clinic, it would be at any drug store, which is a lot easier for people.”
Republicans have thus far stayed mum on whether or not contraception should be covered by insurance without a prescription — a requirement experts consider vital to expanding access. Comstock, however, said she believes “the companies can decide if they have a conscience issue with it and don’t want to provide it.” She claimed increased availability would bring down the cost to “6 or 7 dollars,” and cited the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and their support for over-the-counter birth control to back up her position.
But the ACOG has recently blasted Republican candidates for using over-the-counter contraception as “a political tool,” and clarified that they support many additional policies that Republicans have yet to embrace, such as providing all contraception “at no cost” under the Affordable Care Act.
Comstock also did not mention her past support for Virginia’s controversial mandatory ultrasound law, which in its original iteration would have forced some pregnant women, including survivors of rape or incest, to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before receiving an abortion. The final version mandates only abdominal ultrasounds.
Comstock, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and the military contractor Blackwater, has also been a vocal opponent of expanding Medicaid to 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians, an estimated 169,000 of whom are women. Comstock has also promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected to Congress.
Still, she insisted she’s the best candidate to enact “family friendly” policies in Washington. “I’ve always supported equal pay and I have fought for that my whole life,” she told ThinkProgress. “The one thing I will say is that I work harder than a lot of the guys. In Congress you get paid the same, so I get paid the same whether I work a lot more.”
CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
GOP Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie was also supposed to attend the “Rally in the Valley,” but canceled last minute and sent his wife Cathy Gillespie instead. She told the crowd that the Obama Administration’s policies are “not just killing our jobs, but killing our work ethic,” and urged the attendees to vote for her husband to protest his opponent Mark Warner’s support for Obamacare and efforts to address climate change.
She added that it was especially important to counter the charge that Republican lawmakers have waged a “War on Women,” and asked the audience, “How could they anyone ever think we have a War on Women when we’re running great women candidates like Barbara Comstock?”
Just minutes later, local community leader Chuck Pearce took the microphone to auction off donated items. Holding up a floral patterned purse, Pearce joked: “Get this for your wife and then you can watch as much football as you want!” When offering up a set of beer glasses decorated with owls, he offered: “When your wife says you’ve had too much to drink, now you can tell her, ‘I don’t give a hoot!'” He later shared that he bought a GPS for his car, but took it back to the dealer because he “didn’t want another woman telling me what to do!”
Republicans have ample cause to be anxious about their standing among women voters, especially in Virginia. Women voters delivered decisive victories to Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2013 and President Obama in 2012. Hoping to repeat their success in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights groups are spending millions to defeat candidates with anti-woman policies. Democratic candidates, including Comstock’s opponent John Foust, have also run ads specifically focusing on reproductive rights.