RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said on a syndicated radio program that going to jail may be an effective way to protest a federal mandate that employers cover contraceptives in insurance plans.
On Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace's Wednesday night show, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and tea party favorite said civil disobedience is one way to attack the Affordable Care Act requirement now being challenged in a federal lawsuit by the Hobby Lobby stores.
Cuccinelli called the mandate an attack on the Roman Catholic Church and religious freedom and suggested that opponents fight back by forcing the feds to crack down on those who don't comply.
Cuccinelli, who is Catholic, said he had spoken to a bishop who suggested he'd go to jail to protest it.
"My local bishop said he told a group, 'Well, you know, I told a group I'm ready to go to jail,' and I told him, 'Bishop, don't take this personally -- you need to go to jail," Cuccinelli said, trying to balance levity with seriousness.
Hobby Lobby and Mardel Inc., a religious book seller owned by the same conservative Christian family, plan to defy the federal health care law that requires employee health care plans to provide insurance coverage for the morning-after pill and similar emergency contraception. The company risks fines up to $1.3 million a day.
The companies are suing to block the requirement in the federal law, claiming it violates their owners' religious beliefs. They say the morning-after pill is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in a woman's womb.
In three years as attorney general, Cuccinelli has pursued aggressive efforts to restrict abortion in Virginia. Last year, Cuccinelli forced the State Board of Health to reverse a decision to exempt existing abortion clinics from a new law that required them to meet the same architectural standards as new hospitals by saying the board overstepped its bounds and refusing to certify the board's regulations.
He was also the first state attorney general to file a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2010 federal health care reforms that became known as "Obamacare."
In his interview with Deace, Cuccinelli said employers who want to challenge the law may have to make the hard decision to go to jail to "provide an example of what tyranny means when it's played to its logical conclusion."
"Abraham Lincoln has many good quotes, but one of them is 'The best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it vigorously," Cuccinelli said on the show, which is carried in several states.
Democrats and abortion-rights groups blasted Cuccinelli starting Wednesday evening after Politico reported Cuccinelli's comments from the night before.
"For Virginia's chief legal officer to suggest that citizens break the law is not only reckless, it's dangerous," said Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring, who is running for the office Cuccinelli will vacate.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the foremost reproductive rights lobby in Richmond, tweeted: "Ken Cuccinelli thinks ppl (people) should go to jail to oppose better access to birth control. And he wants to be our Gov?!"
Efforts to mandate vaginally invasive ultrasound exams before all abortions produced angry state Capitol protests in Richmond last winter and subjected Cuccinelli, Gov. Bob McDonnell and other Republicans in an election year to nationwide unfavorable headlines and ridicule by television comedians.