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Virginia bishops ‘distraught’ at abortion bill, governor’s comments

Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, Va., walks with his crosier as he arrives to celebrate the closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

'It could have paved the way for babies to suffer a violent and gruesome death moments before birth,' said the Bishop of Arlington

Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond issued statements on Thursday condemning a proposed abortion bill in the Virginia legislature and comments made by the state’s governor.

“This bill rightfully failed–but I am, along with so many people of good will, distraught that this bill was introduced in the first place,” said Burbidge in the statement released January 31.

“It could have paved the way for babies to suffer a violent and gruesome death moments before birth and could have been harmful to women,” he added.

The bill, introduced by Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax), became the subject of heated debate after video circulated of Tran answering questions about the scope of the proposed law.

During questioning by House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R) on Tuesday, Tran said that there was nothing in the bill that would prevent an abortion being performed while a woman was in active labor.

On January 30 Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared on WTOP radio to support the bill and described what some of its provisions would have meant in practice, including in-labor abortions.

Northam said that if a baby were sufficiently disabled at birth, it could be “kept comfortable” and might be resuscitated if the mother wished, and there could be a “conversation” between doctors and the mother.

Burbidge called the remarks a “staggering admission” about the proposed fate of children, one that “reflects a new level of deep-rooted animus against the inherent goodness of every child.”

The combination of Northam’s comments and the bill’s provisions are a sign of “how far abortion advocates are willing to go in taking the life of a precious child,” said Burbidge.

In his own statement, Bishop Knestout called the proposals “horrific,” “outrageous,” and “vicious,” and said that there is “no place in a civil society for this sort of thought and action.”

The Richmond bishop called statements made by Northam and Tran “equally disheartening and reprehensible.”

“We should not be legislating in favor of abortion, let alone third trimester abortions, at all,” said Knestout, adding that “all our actions and decisions should be life-giving.”

After the bill failed to make it out of legislative committee and was tabled by a 5-3 vote on Wednesday, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) said that she would not have supported the bill had she understood its provisions better.

Adams said in a letter to her constituents that she believed the bill merely repealed pro-life reforms introduced in 2012, and was surprised that “it sought to do much more.”

Adams apologized for failing to “exercise due diligence” before agreeing to co-sponsor the bill

“Had I researched each line of removed language, I would have seen that, and known that there was more research to be done,” she said, adding that she is still in favor of abortion rights.

While many characterized Northam’s radio comments as an implied endorsement of infanticide, a Catholic bioethicist told CNA that he did not believe the governor explicitly went that far.

Dr. Joe Zalor, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that he did not see the comments as discussing infanticide, per se, but he did find the bill itself to be “highly problematic” and he is glad that it was tabled in committee.

Zalor drew a distinction between circumstances were a child may have survived an abortion and when it was born with such a severe condition that it was medically dying of natural causes from the moment of birth.

“There’s nothing morally wrong if you have a child with a very severe illness and there’s really nothing that medicine can do–it is admissible (…) to give the child comfort care and let them die a natural death in the arms of their parents,” explained Zalor.

Infanticide, he said, involved the taking of deliberate action to hasten the death of the infant.

Zalor said that he believes this bill, and similar legislation being considered in other states, is “the culture of death being exposed for what it is.”

“And it’s very, very ugly. A silver lining to this may be that people are waking up.”