Virginia abortion bill reignites national debate

Virginia abortion bill reignites national debate
© Getty Images

Republicans at the national level this week jumped into the firestorm surrounding a Virginia abortion-rights bill, marking a rare instance in which a state issue has drawn harsh rebukes from members of Congress and the White House.

The bill, proposed by a Democratic state lawmaker, would have made it easier for women to get third trimester abortions if their health was threatened by pregnancy.

ADVERTISEMENT
While the same measure was introduced without controversy in recent years, comments from the bill’s author and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) provoked outrage among anti-abortion groups, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and even the president and vice president, with some saying the bill’s supporters were embracing infanticide. 

“To support, let alone cheer, late-term abortions not only marks a disturbing step backward by so-called ‘progressives’ — it also violates every demand of human decency,” Vice President Pence said in a National Review editorial published Thursday. “There’s another word for this: infanticide. And it is morally reprehensible and evil.”

In a video that went viral this week, bill sponsor Kathy Tran acknowledged that the legislation would allow a woman who is dilating to request an abortion if a doctor determined that childbirth would impair her mental health.

“It would allow that, yes,” Tran said in response to questions from House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R) during a committee hearing.

The measure failed to make it out of committee.

Virginia doesn’t have any time constraints for those seeking abortions, but Tran’s bill would have made it easier for women to get abortions in the third trimester by requiring the approval of only one doctor instead of the three mandated under current law.

ADVERTISEMENT
By the time Northam was asked about the bill on a local radio show Wednesday, the controversy had already erupted on social media.

He then added fuel to the fire when he said that third-term abortions are rare and typically occur when an infant is severely deformed or unable to survive after birth.

“In this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I could tell you exactly what would happen: the infant would be delivered; the infant would be kept comfortable; the infant would be resuscitated, if that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” Northam said.

“I think this was really blown out of proportion,” he added.

The governor later found himself at the center of a controversy after admitting he had appeared in a racist photo from when he was in medical school.

Republicans argue that Northam’s comments regarding the abortion bill were an endorsement of infanticide.

“Let’s be really clear about what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about fourth trimester abortion, or what anyone in the normal world calls infanticide,” Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAfrica's women can change a continent: Will Ivanka give them her full support? Senate needs to stand up to Trump's Nixonian view of the Fed GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback MORE (R-Neb.) said Thursday on the Senate floor after reading Northam’s comments aloud.

“We’re talking about killing a baby that’s been born,” he said, pointing to Northam’s comments about the “discussion” between the mother and the doctors.

“And then a decision or debate would be had about whether or not you could kill that little baby,” Sasse said, offering his interpretation of Northam’s comments.

Sasse said he will expedite a bill for consideration on Monday that requires medical care for babies that survive abortions.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE, GOP Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit Menendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions MORE (La.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDems plot aggressive post-Mueller moves, beginning with McGahn Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Cuban negotiator says Trump's efforts to destabilize Cuba's government will fail MORE (Fla.) and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielWarren calls for House to begin impeachment proceedings Fox's Kilmeade questions whether Omar is 'an American first' after 9/11 remarks Donald Trump has secured the future of our American courts MORE were among those who criticized Northam’s comments.

“I’m surprised that he did that,” Trump said in an interview with the Daily Caller, referring to Northam. “This is going to lift up the whole pro-life movement like maybe it’s never been lifted up before." 

A White House official on Friday said Trump would address “the fundamental importance and Respect of human life” in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

“I never thought I would see the day America had government officials who only support legal infanticide,” Rubio tweeted.

Northam’s office said the governor’s comments were not referring to infanticide, and that critics were making “bad faith” arguments.

“[Northam’s] comments focus on the tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor,” said Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel on Twitter.

“Extrapolating otherwise is bad faith and why health decisions should be between a woman and her doctor,” she added. 

National anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List and the National Right to Life have energized their supporters over the controversy, saying it’s an indication of where the Democratic Party is heading. 

They drew comparisons to a New York bill signed into law last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) that allows abortions after 24 weeks if a doctor determines the woman’s life or health is at stake, or if the fetus is not viable.

“On the heels of New York’s radical expansion of abortion, Delegate Tran’s bill and Governor Northam’s statements reveal with alarming clarity what the modern Democratic Party stands for and their agenda for our nation – abortion on demand, up until the moment of delivery and even beyond,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “This position is irreconcilable with the beliefs, values, and desires of most Americans.” 

Northam’s defenders contend that abortion opponents are misleading the public.

“The misinformation being spewed by anti-choice politicians, right-wing media and Trump around VA and NY’s abortion bills is egregious and we must set the record straight and remember the anti-choice movement has one goal: ban abortion and criminalize women and doctors,” tweeted Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which worked to elect Northam in 2017.

“To work towards this goal, they must deceive the public and twist the facts, especially when it comes to women who need abortion later in pregnancy,” she added.