Madeleine Stowe Wants Virginia’s Government Out of Women’s Bodies

The ‘Revenge’ star goes south to keep politicians from playing doctor.

Madeleine Stowe in Virginia protesting state laws requiring invasive ultrasounds.

‘Revenge’ star Madeleine Stowe traveled to Virginia to stump for basic human rights for women—in America. (Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images)

There’s something rotten in Virginia, and it’s not the delicious tomatoes found at the Hanover Tomato Festival, which annually brings close to 40,000 folks out to Hanover County for music, crafts, art, and, of course, the world famous Hanover tomato.

This year’s festival, held July 14, had another attraction, Madeleine Stowe.

The star of screens large and small (and recent Golden Globe nominee for her portrayal of Victoria Grayson on ABC’s Revenge) was on hand to stump for Wayne Powell, the underdog challenger for Virginia’s 7th district house seat currently occupied by Republican majority leader, Eric Cantor.

The “personhood” law would grant legal rights throughout Virginia to fertilized eggs. In other words, life and rights begin at conception—a zygote is a person.

Stowe and David “Mudcat” Saunders, Powell’s bare-knuckled political strategist, are old friends. The two worked together on John Edwards’s campaign before Edwards went awry, and Saunders has worked with Stowe in Haiti, where the actress is active in the post-earthquake recovery process.

TakePart wrote about the unlikely Powell bid to upset Cantor when it was starting to roll. Now, it’s accelerating. Saunders made an appearance on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show on Thursday evening and pretty much called Cantor an outright crook.

Stowe could be seen on The Ed Show Friday, making her case for Powell’s election.

Pushing Powell, though, is only one part of Stowe’s agenda. More broadly, she’s worried about those rotten things eating away at Virginia’s soul, where her husband, the actor Brian Benben, has deep roots.

“My husband comes from Virginia, the family he really feels connected to comes from Virginia,” says Stowe, calling from the Powell camp. “His mother, father and brother are all buried next to each other in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The rotten thing in Virginia is a General Assembly and governor’s office captured by radicals in 2010, led by Governor Robert F. McDonnell, who have been pushing a fundamentalist agenda focused on stone-age ideas about women and family. Stowe is incensed by the state’s recent invasion of women’s reproductive rights, and, well, organs, in the form of various laws requiring ultrasounds for abortion seekers.

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The governor’s roots in this nonsense were first formally articulated in a 93-page master’s thesis he wrote while attending Pat Robertson’s evangelical finishing school, now known as Regent University, in the late ’80s.

In the paper, McDonnell articulated such forward-thinking ideas as working women and feminists were bad for families and that public policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.” Oh, and the 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples was “illogical.”

While McDonnell has publicly tried to distance himself from his master’s work, pleading he was just a silly kid (at 34), the commonwealth’s Assembly hasn’t distanced itself from trying to legislate the state’s obligation to insert metal devices into women’s vaginas as prerequisite for exercising their constitutional right to an abortion.

Requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound passed the state senate and a House of Delegates committee in Virginia this past February and was on the way to being the law of the commonwealth before mass outrage made the governor reconsider. A modified version mandating external ultrasounds was passed in Virginia instead.

However, since external ultrasounds can’t really detect anything worthwhile in the first trimester, the procedure is medically irrelevant, except as a thinly veiled attempt to find new and interesting ways to harass women seeking abortions. The Virginia measure also requires that a copy of the fetal image be in an abortion-seeker’s medical record at the abortion facility for seven years.

Other states have even spookier laws. Texas, North Carolina and Oklahoma require women to listen to the provider’s verbal description of the ultrasound.

But those patrician upstarts won’t outdo Virginia. Waiting in the Commonwealth’s assembly’s wings is the nuclear option, House Bill 1, sponsored by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), which has already cleared the House of Delegates and the senate’s Education and Health Committee. The “personhood” law would grant legal rights throughout Virginia to fertilized eggs. In other words, life and rights begin at conception—a zygote is a person.

The “personhood” law has long been the holy grail of anti-abortion activists: An end run around Roe V. Wade by doing something legislatively that doesn’t exist biologically—turning a fertilized egg into a person. A similar measure failed recently in Mississippi, and the Virginia bill is on the backburner, for now. It can be called up for vote as soon as the dust settles.

“It’s dormant, not dead,” says Stowe. “This is a whole other level of crazy . . . It gets worse. They are talking about not allowing girls to get the human papillomavirus vaccine.”

What does all this have to do with Powell and Cantor?

Well, what’s happening in the Virginia legislature and in Cantor’s 7th district has become exhibit A for evangelical overreach and corporate water carrying. So, if the rot can be stopped there, it can be stopped anywhere.

While stumping for Powell at the tomato festival, Stowe also made time for a red-carpet fundraising event for the Women’s Strike Force, a grassroots, non-partisan PAC that was recently formed to sponsor candidates in Virginia who want to focus on jobs, education and healthcare instead of women’s private parts. About 30 of these women were arrested earlier in the year protesting the ultrasound legislation.

And that’s when Stowe became a Wayne Powell fan. “He went and defended them pro bono,” says Stowe. “They’re loving what he’s doing.”

A 30-year Army vet and a former intelligence commander after 9/11, Powell has a red, white and blue resume. Powell is running on a platform of respecting women and working people, ideas that Cantor’s voting record is in demonstrable opposition to. Powell, of course, faces huge deficits in name recognition and financing compared with Cantor. Stowe, who jokingly confessed that she thinks celebrities are useless, is down for the cause nonetheless.

“He’s doing something everyone says is impossible, running against Cantor,” she says. “I’m there to stand by his side.” 

And while Powell is a longshot, a recent Hickman Analytics poll shows that Cantor can be had. In the wake of the “personhood” legislation, 68 percent of voters in the 7th district say they want a pro-choice candidate while 43 percent say they want anybody but Cantor.

“I can’t stand Eric Cantor, and I want to see him go away,” says Stowe, perhaps summing up 7th district voters’ sentiment. “He’s dangerous because he’s smart and he has no moral compass.”

But Virginia voters just might be ready to take back theirs. 

Are celebrities really, as Madeleine Stowe joked, useless, or do famous activists advance deserving causes? Leave your thoughts in COMMENTS.

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