Northam: Critics Are Taking My Late-Term Abortion Comments Out of Context

Gov. Ralph Northam
Gov. Ralph Northam / Getty Images
January 30, 2019

Gov. Ralph Northam (D., Va.) responded to criticism Wednesday spurred by his defense of an abortion bill making its way through the Virginia state legislature and his suggestion there are circumstances when a mother and physicians may allow an infant to die after delivery.

Northam said through a spokesperson that his controversial comments were meant to defend the right of women to obtain an abortion when facing "difficult circumstances" like nonviable pregnancies or severe fetal abnormalities. He blamed backlash to his comments on Republicans "trying to play politics."

"Republicans in Virginia and across the country are trying to play politics with women's health, and that is exactly why these decisions belong between a woman and her physician, not legislators, most of whom are men," a statement from a spokesman began.

"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. Attempts to extrapolate these comments otherwise is in bad faith and underscores exactly why the governor believes physicians and women, not legislators, should make these difficult and deeply personal medical decisions," the statement continued.

In an interview with a Washington D.C.-area radio station Wednesday morning, Northam commented on a bill proposed Tuesday in the Virginia legislature, the Repeal Act, that would allow abortions through the end of the third trimester of pregnancy. Delegate Kathy Tran said her bill would allow an abortion until right before the infant was born.

Northam explained what would happen if the pregnant woman was in labor, saying if she was considering an abortion, it would not necessarily have to be carried out before the baby was delivered.

"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," Northam said, referring to the physician and mother discussing whether the born infant should live.

In the statement from his spokesman, Northam did not further address the criticism of his suggestion that any infant—abnormal or not—could be allowed to die or intentionally killed after delivery.

While Northam's statement referred to the limitations on late-term abortion in current Virginia law, Tran's bill does not only allow for abortions in the third trimester in "the case of tragic or difficult circumstances, such as a nonviable pregnancy or in the event of severe fetal abnormalities." The Repeal Act allows abortion providers to determine whether a woman’s physical or mental health necessitates a late-term abortion.

Polls consistently show that most Americans, even those identifying as pro-choice, favor restrictions on abortion. One survey found only a quarter of pro-choice Americans favored access to abortion throughout the entire pregnancy.