News Analysis

If Virginia Governor Northam goes, pro-lifers won’t be able to breathe a sigh of relief

In the last two weeks Democrats in New York and Virginia have advanced efforts to expand legal abortion, succeeding in the former case and failing in the latter. Both can be understood as responses by Democratic states to shore up legal abortion in the face of a shifting Supreme Court.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that would allow third-trimester abortions in the event of “absence of fetal viability” or a threat to the health of the mother. It also dropped the requirement that only doctors perform abortions, and removed possible criminal penalties for non-abortion violence against the unborn. For example, if an abusive partner pushed a pregnant woman down the stairs, causing the death of the child, that can only be prosecuted as a homicide if the baby is after 24 weeks.

Previously, New York law specifically only stated that a late-term abortion was permissible if there was a threat to the life of the mother. Roe v Wade’s standard does allow for the health exemption as well, but it was not codified into state law, meaning that abortionists were sometimes reluctant to use that loophole. The new New York law codifies it, and thus is likely to increase the already high number of abortions in that state.

That Cuomo, who says he is Catholic, signed a bill that is likely to increase abortions has prompted calls for his excommunication. So far his bishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has resisted them.

In Virginia, Delegate Kathy Tran introduced a bill in the Virginia statehouse last week that would have allowed an abortion up to and during the delivery of the child, with a single doctor’s agreement that giving birth would be harmful to the mother’s mental health. A Republican delegate grilled Tran into saying that the bill “would allow” abortion when a mother was about to give birth. The resulting video went viral, causing widespread outrage.

Tran told the Washington Post that she “misspoke”. “I should have said: ‘Clearly, no, because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth.”

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, the bill would only “change the number of physicians required for approval, and broaden the health circumstances under which an abortion would be allowed”. What happened to Tran on the floor of the Virginia statehouse is that she was forced to explain exactly what that would mean.

According to Virginia Department of Health statistics published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, there have been no third-trimester abortions in 2016, 2017, or 2018 in the state. But if the Tran bill became law that probably would change. The bill had the support of 22 Democratic co-sponsors in the House of Delegates and two in the Senate, one of whom is the minority leader. One Democratic delegate has since admitted she hadn’t read the bill and wouldn’t have voted for it if she had. Most of the co-sponsors are from Northern Virginia, a reminder that the people who inhabit the federal bureaucracy and contracting ecosystem are for the most part socially liberal.

Virginia governor Ralph Northam defended Tran’s bill on the radio, and told the host that, in the event that the mother went into labour, “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.” This was widely interpreted as a defence of letting a newborn die. Northam later said his comments were “mischaracterised”. It’s interesting how these misunderstandings keep happening when politicians are forced to explain their extreme pro-abortion positions.

Whatever Northam’s intended meaning, his perceived callousness in support of what had been widely characterised as a legal infanticide bill upset a “concerned citizen” who was a classmate of his at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he graduated in 1984. Someone contacted a conservative news site and showed them a photo from Northam’s yearbook page, which depicted a man in Klan robes next to a man in blackface, one of whom might have been Northam himself.

If his earlier remarks weren’t enough to put him on the back foot, the decades-old photo certainly did. By Saturday morning Northam was inundated with calls from both Democrats and Republicans for him to step down, including from many of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, including Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren.

If Northam goes, however, pro-lifers would not be able to breathe a sigh of relief. In fact, if anything things would be worse. Justin Fairfax, his Lieutenant Governor and likely replacement, was a vice-chairman of the Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington Action Fund. As we went to press, he had not yet taken a position on the Tran bill. Fairfax represents a new kind of progressivism for Virginia, and there is a factional struggle going on within the Democratic Party over the prospect of Northam’s resignation.

Meanwhile, the governor’s erstwhile allies, NARAL and Planned Parenthood, have ditched him and called for his resignation, after all the political capital he expended on their behalf.