Virginia Governor Northam And Infanticide

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam firmly planted both feet in his mouth this week: first by appearing to defend what can only be called infanticide; and then, after the discovery of an embarrassingly damning photo from his page in his medical school yearbook, first apologizing for it and then denying that the photograph was of him (leaving unexplained how it got on his yearbook page).

I will leave the blackface controversy for a later day, if then. For now I will say only that forcing someone from office for racial insensitivity thirty years ago strikes me as just more evidence of the moral preening and current around-the-bendness of todays social justice warriors.

The infanticide controversy, however, has a few aspects that I believe deserve more attention,

By now everyone knows that Delegate Kathy Tran (D, Fairfax) ignited a firestorm this week when she was questioned in committee about her HB 2491, which would loosen restrictions on third trimester abortions.

“How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman?” [Republican minority leader, Delegate Todd] Gilbert asked.

“Through the third trimester,” Tran responded. “The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.”

“Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth,” Gilbert then asked, “would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified? She’s dilating.”

“My bill would allow that,” Tran said.

Many observers were shocked, and the excrement hit the fan. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this proposal, however, is that allowing abortion up to the time of delivery in some circumstances would involve no change in current law.

What HB 2491 would change is the current requirement that for third trimester abortions three physicians must certify that “the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irredeemably impair the mental or physical health of the woman” to only one physician, who must certify only that continuing the pregnancy “is likely to result in the death of the woman or impair the mental or physical health of the woman,” dropping the currently required “substantially and irredeemably.” It would, in short, make it far easier for a woman to get a third term abortion, but it would not extend the time such an abortion could be performed.

At that point Governor Northam stepped up to defend the proposed legislation … and poured rhetorical gasoline on the already raging firestorm. From his Wednesday radio interview:

When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of — obviously — the mother, with the consent of the physicians — more than one physician, by the way. And it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s non-viable.”
If a mother is in labor, I can 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 & mother.

Whatever Gov. Northam’s intent, it’s easy to see why his stated willingness to let mother and doctor decide not to “resuscitate” the newborn infant could, and did, lead reasonable observers to say he was in effect defending infanticide. (But since in this scenario the newborn was born alive, “resuscitate” is a curious and potentially very misleading verb.)

After the deluge of criticism, Northam attacked his critics as acting “in bad faith” and purposefully misunderstanding him. He tweeted that “I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting,” and his spokesman, Ofirah Yheskel, issued a statement asserting that “No woman seeks a third trimester abortion except in the case of tragic or difficult circumstances, such as a nonviable pregnancy or in the event of severe fetal abnormalities, and the governor’s comments were limited to the actions physicians would take in the event that a woman in those circumstances went into labor.”

One problem with this defense is that there is nothing in the bill limiting late term abortions, or even very, very late term abortions, to fetal abnormalities. The main problem, however, is that it isn’t true. First, there is little evidence of the motivation of third trimester abortion-seekers, but what evidence there is refutes the governor’s assertion. According to a 2013 study the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, a “special affiliate” of Planned Parenthood, concluded that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

Thus the main problem with Northam’s defense of allowing mother and doctor to dispense with a newborn is that the infant may in fact not be suffering from any fetal anomaly. Perhaps that was not what Northam intended, but it is certainly not precluded by what he actually said. But another problem, not noticed by many commentators (David French in National Review is an exception), is that Northam apparently was not even familiar with the bill he was defending.

Kathy Tran’s bill would indeed have reduced the restrictions on late term abortions to almost nothing (only one physician needed to find evidence of some mental health impact, such as anxiety or depression), but even that extreme bill would not have allowed the mother and doctor to decide to allow an abortion-surviving infant to die. § 18.2-74 (3) provides “Measures for life support for the product of such abortion or miscarriage shall be available and utilized if there is any clearly visible evidence of viability.”

Northam could have saved himself and his fellow Democrats a lot of grief if he had either read the bill he was defending or, in the alternative, just kept his mouth shut, preventing his foot from entering. But he has nevertheless provided a valuable service in revealing the extreme view of late term abortion shared by most Democrats.

Say What?