Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s comments on third-trimester abortion – in which he discussed what would happen after a baby was already born – are generating intense controversy.
Northam, a Democrat and physician, made the remarks on WTOP in the wake of a controversial bill that would loosen restrictions on third-trimester abortions. The bill was tabled in committee, however. This is what the governor said, after referencing fetuses with severe deformities or who are “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 and the mother.
You can watch the governor’s remarks here:
According to his biography, Ralph Northam “served as an Army doctor, pediatric neurologist, business owner, state Senator and Lieutenant Governor” before becoming the 73rd governor of Virginia.
“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,” according to a Northam statement released by the governor’s spokesperson. “Republicans in Virginia and across the country are trying to play politics with women’s health.”
Here’s the governor’s full statement, released after controversy erupted.
However, the text of the bill says that “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.”
The governor also wrote this on Twitter:
Here’s the key portion of the bill with Tran’s proposed changes:
Here’s the broader context:
The host said, “There was a very contentious committee hearing yesterday when Fairfax County delegate Kathy Tran made her case for lifting restrictions on third-trimester abortions as well as other restrictions now in place. And she was pressed by a Republican delegate about whether her bill would permit an abortion even as a woman is essentially dilating ready to give birth, and she answered that it would permit an abortion at that stage of labor. Do you support her measure and explain her answer?”
The governor responded:
I wasn’t there, Julie, and I certainly can’t speak for delegate Tran. But I will tell you that, one, the first thing I would say, this is why decisions such as this should be made by providers, physicians and the mothers and fathers that are involved. 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. So, in this particular example if the 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 and the mother. So, I think this was really blown out of proportion. But again we want the government not to be involved in these types of decisions. We want the decision to be made by the mothers and their providers. And this is why, Julie, legislators, most of whom are men, by the way, shouldn’t be telling a woman what she should or shouldn’t be doing with her body.
The host asked, “Do you think multiple physicians should have to weigh in? She’s trying to lift that requirement.”
The governor said, “Well, I think it’s always good to get a second opinion and for at least two providers to be involved in that decision because these decisions shouldn’t be taken lightly. I would certainly support more than one provider.”
Kathy Tran Acknowledged That Her Bill Would Allow Abortion Even Up to the Moment a Woman Was Dilating
You can watch Kathy Tran present the third-trimester abortion bill above before a legislative committee. The video went viral on social media. You can read the full text of the bill here.
The Virginia House GOP was among the sites sharing the Tran video. “Heartbreaking… This isn’t in New York, this isn’t in California, this happened just this week right here in Virginia,” they wrote on Twitter. “@VAHouseDems proposed legislation to provide abortions up to just seconds before that precious child takes their first breath. Watch for yourself.”
According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, currently in Virginia, third-trimester abortion is only allowed “if three doctors conclude a woman’s life or health is at a severe risk.” Tran’s bill loosens that restriction, making it so a woman could get a third-trimester abortion “on the advice of one doctor” who would need to certify that the pregnancy would “impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” Conservatives seized on the mental health provision as a dramatic loosening of the present regulations.
Tran stated that her bill would remove language classifying facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month as hospitals; would repeal Virginia’s informed consent and mandatory ultrasound and 24 hour delay; would repeal the requirement that second trimester abortions be performed in a hospital licensed by the state Department of Health; and would repeal the requirement for two additional physicians in cases of third trimester abortions.
A committee member, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, asked: “How late in a pregnancy would your bill apply if a physician was simply willing to certify that the continuation of a pregnancy would impair the mental health of the woman? How late are we talking about?
“So the way the suggestion that we’ve made in the bill is to say it’s in the third-trimester with the certification of the physician,” Tran said.
Gilbert: “So how late in the third trimester would you be able to do that?”
Tran: “…Through the third trimester. The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.”
Gilbert: “To the end of the third trimester?”
Tran: “I don’t think we have a limit in the bill.”
Gilbert: “Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth. She has physical signs that she is about to give a birth. Would that still be a point where she could request an abortion if she’s so certified… she’s dilating.”
Tran: “Mr. Chairman that would be a decision that the doctor, the physician, and the mother would make at that point.”
Gilbert: “I’m asking if your bill allows that.”
Tran: “… My bill would allow that, yes.”
Gilbert: “I could have said a week from her due date and that would be the same answer correct?”
Tran: “That it’s allowed in the bill, yes.”
Gilbert: “You substantially changed the standard by removing a couple words, correct?”
Tran: “Yes, I’m aware.”
Gilbert: “What type of mental health conditions would you anticipate would be utilized by physicians under these circumstances to determine that a child that is otherwise viable is worthy of an abortion?”
Tran: “You know, again I’m not a physician so I can’t make those calls as to when a physician would determine that a woman’s mental health where they would be able to certify an abortion at that point.”
Gilbert: “But the doctor, the physician, wouldn’t have to have any specialized training in mental health to make that determination under your bill, right?”
“Under this bill, no.”
Tran released a statement, according to the Times-Dispatch, that insisted: “These decisions are personal and private, and they are made in consultation with doctors who are using their best medical judgement. I regret that these partisan games have taken the focus away from where it should be: on the Virginian women who have asked for this bill to get politicians out of their private medical decisions.”
Tran’s website provides her biography. “Delegate Kathy Tran (VA-42) and her parents fled Vietnam as boat refugees when she was just seven months old,” it reads. “On the voyage, she grew so sick she almost died at sea. Although many other countries offered them asylum, they waited 13 months for the United States to accept their application. Kathy’s family risked everything to come to America because this country has always represented hope, opportunity and freedom. Now, she’s fighting for the American values that brought her family here in the Virginia House of Delegates representing the people of the 42nd District in the Commonweatlh of Virginia.”
The bio says she spent 12 years at the Department of Labor, where she was Acting Administrator for the Office of Workforce Investment and the Director of the Division of Policy, Legislation, and Regulation. She also worked for the National Immigration Forum. She is a married mother of four who “graduated from Duke University and earned her Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan,” according to her biography. She is in her first term.