In just three days, our nation will hold what is likely to be the most important election of our lifetimes. Here in North Carolina, our U.S. Senate race is the most expensive senatorial race ever, and several state legislative seats are likely to be decided by razor thin margins.
But Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation of Virginia, knows firsthand that just a handful of seats in the state legislature can make all the difference. Cobb spoke at NC Family’s fifth and final Virtual Event on October 22, and she shared what happened in Virginia after pro-family legislators lost the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. Her interview with NC Family President John L. Rustin is featured on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters.
The Commonwealth of Virginia holds elections for the two chambers of its legislature in odd number years. “So, we get to 2019,” shares Cobb, “and unfortunately in a matter of [six] seats in the House and two seats in the Senate that got changed, pro-family legislators lost control of the majorities in both chambers, which added to an already very liberal governor. So, now we have this very left-wing trifecta controlling really everything here in Virginia.”
After this trifecta took over, Cobb shares how decades of pro-family laws were dismantled in a matter of weeks. “Possibly the most devastating thing that did happen was on the pro-life front, because it does take decades to get this work done, and it was all stripped away. And this is important for folks to realize, stripped away in one bill that got very minimal hearing.”
Despite the horrible things she has seen happen in Virginia this past year, Cobb remains hopeful. “We know who sits on the throne, even when the government is horrific. […] Our job is to do the things we can do. What are believers able to do in the workplace? How is the Gospel getting out in other places? Is it only how we worship, or is it how we live? All of these things should really be pushing us to say, ‘What is the one more thing I can do?’”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Victoria Cobb share her state’s story, and put into perspective what is at stake for North Carolina in this upcoming election.
JOHN RUSTIN: Today, we bring you an excerpt from NC Family’s Virtual Event on October 22nd, entitled the 2020 Elections: What’s at Stake? This event features Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation of Virginia. We hope you enjoy.
Victoria, thanks so much for being with us today. Let me just say at the outset that you are a great friend and a great leader among the nearly 40 Family Policy Councils across the nation. We’re grateful for your leadership, and we’re grateful for your participation in this event tonight. Victoria, before we get started, tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been at The Family Foundation of Virginia.
VICTORIA COBB: Sure. I am originally from the Philadelphia area, came down to Virginia for college and have been here ever since, and pretty much been at The Family Foundation ever since. I was one of those—and all the Family Policy Councils love these—one of these interns. I was just so passionate; I just kind of stayed. And so, I’ve now actually been President for about 15 years. I was passionate about the life issue; that’s what got me into this work. I quickly figured out that there’s a lot of other areas that need just as much work as the pro-life area. So yeah, it’s a broad-based passion that’s just kept me here.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, you do such a great job at it, and I know your team is just really very effective in what you do, and we appreciate your leadership. Speaking of Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia actually holds elections for the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates in odd number years. You all had a legislative election in November of 2019—so just this past year—and those elections turned out to be highly, highly consequential. Tell us a little bit about that.
VICTORIA COBB: Well, as I tell people, there’s been a season in Virginia where we used to have mostly conservative elected officials, and all of a sudden, we started electing a liberal to the U.S. Senate or a liberal to the governorship. And we tried to think of these things as one-offs, and they became more frequent. So, we get to 2019, and unfortunately in a matter of a few seats in the House and two seats in the Senate that got changed, pro-family legislators lost control of the majorities in both chambers, which added to already a very liberal governor. So, now we have this very left-wing trifecta controlling really everything here in Virginia.
JOHN RUSTIN: I think one of the big points that I want our folks to understand here is that the number of seats in the state legislature in Virginia that actually changed hands was not all that many. I think you said it was about maybe six in the hundred-member House and two in the forty-member Senate. But just those tiny changes in highly competitive districts made all the difference in the world.
Also, you mentioned that Virginia has a democratic governor, Ralph Northam. Let me make a disclaimer right now. I mean, we have to talk in terms of party, Democrat, Republican, because we operate within a political environment, but we know that there are folks on both sides of the aisle that we work with. But because we work within that political structure in that political system, it’s important to understand how the parties and the party platforms play into that.
Of course, speaking of Governor Ralph Northam, I’m sure a lot of our viewers will recall the famous and now infamous comments that he made back in January related to abortion. It’s just unreal that we heard these remarks, but it was really a precursor to what was going to happen in Virginia, and unfortunately took place in New York and a number of other states where these extreme abortion proponents came in, took control, and started just dismantling decades of pro-life and pro-family policies.
VICTORIA COBB: Yeah, possibly the most devastating thing that did happen was on the pro-life front. And probably because it does take decades to get this work done, and it was all stripped away. And this is important for folks to realize, stripped away in one bill that got very minimal hearing. So, it isn’t just how painful the outcome is. I will tell you that the process is painful to watch. Let me just share the pieces that got gutted in Virginia: If a woman goes to seek an abortion, no longer will she have true informed consent, which is really important, just what’s actually going on. Do you understand the process? Do you understand the risks? That got gutted, and ours had recently encapsulated the right to be able to see your ultrasound, and we feel like that has just been such a game-changer. The pregnancy centers talk about how valuable that has been because they offered the free ultrasound. So, women know that’s part of the process, they go there, and we’re seeing lives have been saved as a result of what we call the “window to the womb.” So, that’s been gutted.
Another thing that’s been gutted are safety standards. This is not a side issue; this is really a central issue. Women in Virginia, even if they might make a choice you or I wouldn’t make, and they take the life of their unborn child. The idea that they have to risk their own life because these facilities are not up to any kind of medical standards is just shocking. And we had finally resolved that, gotten safety standards in that just simply said, “Let’s actually treat these like every other medical facility instead of putting politics and sort of allowing politics to drive a medical situation. Let’s align them with other outpatient surgery centers.”
So that was a travesty, but I have to remind people, they got rid of 50 years of public policy around abortion. And that’s because no longer in Virginia does a woman even have a right to guarantee that it’s going to be a doctor involved in her abortion. Technically, a midwife could do an abortion in Virginia if her association allowed it so to speak. It’s a shocker, and women should be appalled. And even those that are supposed to be looking out for their interests. So, even if you’re a pro-choice woman, and you think abortion should be legal, the idea that you’re put in such an unsafe situation is just appalling.
JOHN RUSTIN: So, Victoria, how long did it take that piece of legislation to make it through?
VICTORIA COBB: Oh, I would say that was about three weeks, and we were fated for the completion. And the tricky part is it gets drafted; it goes in a committee; then it goes to the floor; then it reverses chambers, as you know. It was just really alarming that you can have so many critical policies on the table in one bill and your entire side of opposition in one chamber. Us and all the other pro-life groups, the pregnancy centers, had a total of five minutes of testimony between all the different groups to try to say why removing a doctor, safety standards, informed consent, why that’s all bad. They gave us five minutes to try to make our case. And obviously your case is not made in the committee. It’s made ahead of time with legislators, but it was just a stunner to see all these people try to come out and want to be helpful in sharing information and not even really getting the opportunity to do so.
JOHN RUSTIN: I know that there were some significant changes made with respect to LGBT issues and the passage of the so-called “Virginia Values Act.” Tell us about that.
VICTORIA COBB: Yeah. So up until this point, The Family Foundation and many other conservative allied organizations and legislators had for 20 years blocked all these attempts to add sexual orientation and gender identity to every place where the code talks about not discriminating. Which as we all know, that’s a really polite way to say we’re going to kind of force an orthodoxy on everyone when we insert these things into the code. And so, we had been able to be successful on that. And as many people may not be aware, this is in every area you can imagine. This is housing. It comes up with who the government is going to hire. It comes up with who is going to be allowed to use certain facilities, whether it’s a wedding venue or whether it’s a bathroom, right? So, all of these are very intertwined issues, and the moment you introduce these terms, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” which often are vague, which makes it even more complex. That’s where we find instantly you clash with religious freedom rights.
But we’ve been able to block all these attempts, not because we’re not loving, not because in every case we think there should be any decision-making around these issues. But what happened in Virginia is they hit lots of things with individual bills, right? So, they kind of had the housing bill. They had the hate crimes, had the government, but then they decided they’d also introduced this omnibus, throw all these concepts in one big bill. They threw everything into this bill, and so it’s called the “Virginia Values Act,” which is painful. It is as broad and far reaching as could be. We actually managed to go sort of broader than even places like New York and California, and that is that we passed a law that says not only will government not discriminate on these things, let’s say like retail business, like a cake baker or a wedding, not even those things. We went all the way to say, we’re going to impact churches, Christian schools, Tabernacles, you name it. If you are a faith provider in some kind of faith-based space, we’re also going to apply these things to you. And so, it’s deeply alarming. We believe that these entities are clearly protected under the First Amendment. We believe the U.S. Supreme Court has sort of just validated that. But unfortunately, we believe we’re also going to have to defend these various faith entities when they run into this, through the legal system, probably all the way up until the U.S. Supreme Court, because that’s kind of how our courts have also started to fall in Virginia is very left-wing activism kinds of decisions.
So, it’s a hard place to be as a faith-based provider in Virginia. And the most we can say is we did form a legal center as part of our Family Policy Council to say: if we need to help—we call them “religious freedom victims”—then we will do that. And it’s important that folks understand that it’s easy to look at these things in really tiny pieces and go, “Well, I don’t think the government should discriminate on sexual orientation.” Sure, except that we know the left is not really looking for non-discrimination, they’re really looking for universal compliance in this worldview. And so, even though sometimes you see the little bills, everyone should understand the big bill is what they want, and it’s just a matter of how to get there. And so, in Virginia, once they had that freedom to go as far and as fast as possible, they did, because it’s not really about the little pieces. It’s about ensuring that those of us who hold orthodox views on marriage or gender are silenced and unable to actually live out those views.
JOHN RUSTIN: Victoria, this is all just incredible. I know we could go on and on. As we talked about at the beginning, it was just a handful, a small handful of seats, six seats in a hundred-member House of Delegates, and two seats in a forty-member State Senate that allowed for all of these dramatic changes to take place. And as you said over and over again, it really is tragic. But you know, we see in this day and age in Virginia, in North Carolina, these races really being decided on a razor-thin edge.
So, as someone just having gone through this, as someone that’s spent as many years as you have advocating for pro-life and pro-family laws and policies, Victoria, how are you dealing with this yourself? And what advice would you give to our audience, as we know that just in a matter of days, we’re going to have one of the most consequential elections in our history take place?
VICTORIA COBB: Well, I will say this, I’m glad that we know the Lord and Savior. We know who sits on the throne, even when the government is horrific. And I would say that’s kind of the case in Virginia. We’re hoping that’s not going to be the case in North Carolina. We’re hoping that’s not going to be the case nationally, as we look at all these races, but our job is to do the things we can do. That’s our job. And so, we’re asking our pastors, please preach the whole counsel of the Word so that when people get to the election, they are rooted. So, that’s step one. The next piece is always registration. Your deadlines are probably past; ours have. But also, you know, what are believers able to do in the workplace? How is the gospel getting out in other places? Is it only how we worship, or is it how we live? And so, you know, all of these things should be really pushing us to say, “What is the one more thing I can do?”
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, I couldn’t agree more Victoria with that. And we have a real opportunity to make a real difference. And I don’t think we could express that difference any more clearly than our conversation today about what’s happened in Virginia, and where we stand in North Carolina right now.
Victoria, I want to just thank you so much for your time, for your willingness to share, for the eloquence with which you have presented all of these things and advocated so well for why we need to keep these good policies in place, policies that honor God, that honor His principles and His laws, and fight as hard as we can against principles that are contrary to that. Because again, they have real effects on real people that we care about because we love our God, and we want to love our neighbor and do what’s best for them.
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