Virginia Anti-Abortion Lobbyist Married To Top State Health Official Who Helped Draft Clinic Regulations

Victoria Cobb, a top anti-abortion activist, has lobbied for clinic regulations for a decade. (Photo: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Last week Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) released harsh new anti-abortion regulations that could shut down the state’s exisiting abortion clinics. Now the Huffington Post is reporting there may have been a conflict of interest in McDonnell’s administration over the regulations. Matt Cobb, deputy secretary of health and human resources, helps lead the office that will interpret the regulations. He is also married to Victoria Cobb, a prominent anti-abortion lobbyist in the state who has spent years lobbying for clinic regulations like the ones just released:

Victoria Cobb, president of the right-wing Family Foundation of Virginia, has been lobbying state lawmakers for the past decade to pass legislation that would force the Department of Health to release abortion clinic regulations like those adopted by South Carolina in 1996 that reduced the number of clinics in the state from 14 to 3.

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, told the Huffington Post that Matt Cobb sat in on meetings discussing the regulations with her and her colleagues:

“People who have been dealing with these issues find it odd that he’s in those meetings about the regulations,” Keene told HuffPost. “I find it really intriguing to think that the premiere anti-abortion advocate is basically married to the person who’s now in charge of implementing the clinic regulations, and he’s involved every step of the way.” […]

A former top state health official, who spoke with HuffPost on the condition of anonymity, agreed, saying he would be “surprised if [Matt] Cobb was not reviewing” the regulations while they were being written. The official explained that the office of the Secretary of Health and Human Resources has some leeway in terms of how they can interpret what the legislation says.

Chris Freund, a spokesman for The Family Foundation, said the Cobbs’ marriage did not influence the regulations. Freund has also referred to the regulations as the “biggest pro-life victory in Virginia in a decade.” They are even more far-reaching than those passed recently in Kansas, and force abortion clinics to comply with overly-onerous construction requirements that were intended to “inform the construction of new hospitals — not doctors’ clinics that already exist.”

“That tells you right there that this is not about safety, it’s about politics,” said Jill Abbey, who oversees four clinics in Virginia, which she says would not be able to operate under the new regulations.

The regulations come after McDonnell signed SB 924 into law, which requires all clinics in Virginia performing first-trimester abortions to be regulated like hospitals. The Virginia Board of Health will vote on these proposed regulations on Sept. 15, and if approved, they will go into effect on Dec. 31.