Gov. Northam defends abortion bill comments after backlash


RICHMOND, Va. — After Governor Ralph Northam faced backlash for comments supporting a bill that would have loosened restrictions on third-trimester abortions, he spoke to a room of supporters and reporters Thursday. 

“I can say as a child neurologist, I have had very difficult conversations with patients and their families,” he explained. 

Wednesday morning on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor,” Northam defended HB2491, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran (D-District 42). The governor spoke about a hypothetical scenario where an infant that was unable to survive or severely deformed after birth.

The governor said, “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.” 

The question on the show was in response to a video that went viral with nearly 2 million views within 24 hours of Tran being questioned by House Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert (R-District 15) about it. 

Northam says these comments are being used by the right for political gain. 

“I regret that those comments have been mischaracterized,” he said Thursday. 

The legislation at the center of this debate was laid on the table in a subcommittee hearing on Monday and is likely to not be brought up again this year. A version of this bill carried in the Senate this year by Sen. Jennifer McClellan was killed in committee about two weeks ago. 

Currently, third-trimester abortions are banned in Virginia, unless the woman’s life or health is in danger. Three doctors have to approve the procedure for it to happen, “based upon their the physician’s best clinical judgment, the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” 

Del. Tran’s bill would have reduced it down to one doctor. It would have also removed the words “substantially and irremediably” to describe the impairment of the woman’s mental or physical health.  

Republicans in a press conference Thursday emphasized that this change in the language would loosen restrictions on late-term abortions.

“For something as simple as a mental health concern,” Del. Gilbert said. 

They accused the Governor of supporting legislation that would kill infants and would allow abortions to be performed while a woman is in labor. 

“Words have meaning,” House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-District 66) said, a day after giving a speech on the House floor.

“The words of Governor Northam I think speak for themselves on this issue,” Del. Gilbert said. 

Virginia Republicans make it a point this issue isn’t going away anytime soon, especially with election season coming. 

“If Democrats gain control of the General Assembly this fall they have a governor who was ready to sign legislation that will remove every protection for women and unborn children,” Del. Kathy Byron (R-District 22) said. 

The governor and other Democratic leaders say it’s not the government’s place to be making decisions over what happens between doctors and their patients.

“The legislature, again most of whom are men, should not be interfering with a woman’s access to reproductive healthcare,” Gov. Northam said. 

This isn’t the first time this type of legislation has been brought up. Similar bills were on the table in 2017 and 2018, HB2186, HB1231 and SB910, but they all died early on in the legislative process.

Republicans also compared Del. Tran’s bill to a law that was signed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo  last week, which removes abortions from the state’s criminal code and also allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said they have not reviewed the legislation in New York thoroughly enough to make a comment on it at this time. 

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