GOP Senators Spread the Lie That Ralph Northam Said He Supports ‘Infanticide’; Here is the Truth


Republican senators like Marco Rubio have been falsely claiming that Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam “support(s) legal infanticide” based on remarks Northam made during an interview this week. Here are the facts.

A veritable gaggle of Republican senators have been spreading variations on this lie since Northam’s interview on Wednesday, including Rubio (posted below), Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley:

But even on their face, without any additional context, Northam’s comments express no such support for “infanticide” or “taking the life of babies AFTER they are born” or that “infants w ‘deformities’ may be candidates for abortion – AFTER birth,” as these senators claim.

In fact, Northam describes a scenario that does not include abortion at all and even expresses disagreement with the abortion rights bill that’s at issue. Here are the facts.

At issue is Virginia House Bill 2491, which loosens several restrictions on late-term abortions. For example, under current law, a “physician and two consulting physicians” must certify that in their “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.”

The new law removes the requirement for “two consulting physicians, and strikes the phrase “substantially and irremediably,” meaning that one physician can sign off on a late-term abortion for any mental or physical impairment of the woman that might result from continuing the pregnancy.

While presenting the bill in the Virginia legislature, Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran was presented with a hypothetical by Republican House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert.

Gilbert asked Tran how late into a pregnancy would a woman be permitted to have an abortion.

“The suggestion that we leave made in the bill is to say it’s in the third trimester, and at the, with the certification of the physician,” Tran replied.

“How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman?” Gilbert asked.

“Or physical health,” Tran added and replied “I mean, through the third trimester. The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.”

“Okay? But to the end of the third trimester?” Gilbert said.

“Yep. I don’t think we have a limit in the bill,” Tran said.

“How late in the third trimester would you be able to do that?” Gilbert pressed.

“You know, it’s very unfortunate that our physicians, our witnesses not able to attend to today to speak specifically…” Tran said. This is a very important part of the exchange, because if a physician had been present, he or she could have described to Gilbert what would actually happen in such a scenario.

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

“Mr. Chairman, that would be a decision that the doctor, the physician and the woman would make at that point,” Tran replied.

“I understand that. I’m asking if your bill allows that.” Gilbert said.

“My bill would allow that. Yes.” Tran replied.

Northam was asked about the bill and Tran’s comments in an interview with WTOP on Wednesday.

“It 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 in place,” NBC 4’s Julie Carey said. “And she was pressed by Republican delegate about whether the Bill would permit in abortion even as a woman is essentially dilating, ready to give birth, she answered and she answered that it would permit abortion at that stage of labor. Do you support her measure, and explain her answer.”

Northam’s response to those two questions, whether he supports the bill and how he explains Tran’s answer, are key to the lies being spread about him, so let’s break them down.

“You know I wasn’t there, Julie, and I certainly can’t speak for delegate Tran,” Northam began, then pivoted to a broad statement about choice.

“But I would tell you one, 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,” Northam continued. “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.”

This is clearly a statement about all third-trimester abortions, which are, in fact, extremely rare. Then, Northam addressed Tran’s response.

“So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen,” Northam said. “The infant would be delivered.”

“The infant would be delivered,” which means not aborted. This is likely what a doctor would have told Gilbert if one had been present at the hearing.

“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 continued.

So the baby has been delivered, resuscitated, and kept comfortable. It is now a living human patient. The “discussion” Northam describes would then involve a different set of laws and ethical considerations governing the continuation of life support and other extraordinary measures.

Unless Northam goes on to add “And that discussion would consist of ‘Hey Doc, can we abort now? Great!’,” he is not suggesting “infanticide” or anything like it. He’s talking about the gut-wrenching decisions that families of patients at any age can face.

Northam did not, in fact, go on to say that the parents would discuss having the doctor murder the child.

“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,” he added, again stating the broad principle that he opened the interview with. “And this is why Julie, that 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.”

Then, Northam actually told Carey that he disagrees with the bill Tran was describing.

“Do you think multiple physicians should have to weigh in, as it’s currently required?” Carey asked. “She’s trying to lift that requirement.”

“Well, I think it’s always good to get a second opinion, for at least two providers to be involved in that decision,” Northam replied. “Because these decisions shouldn’t be taken lightly, and so I would certainly support more than one provider.”

So it would be correct to say that Northam defended the right to a late-term, medically necessary abortion, that he endorsed parents having control over their living children’s health care decisions, and that he disagreed with the measure that Tran introduced. You can quibble with all of those positions, but none of them equates to “taking the life of babies AFTER they are born.”

The fact is that when Donald Trump made a similar claim about terminating pregnancies right up until the moment of birth, several medical experts told The New York Times that this does not happen in the United States. Gilbert’s scenario was pure macabre fantasy, and Tran’s response was merely a technical reading of the law, which does not set a limit.

But the current law doesn’t set a limit, either. Proponents of abortion rights are wary of allowing the government to get a foot in the door between patients and doctors, which is why, for example, Barack Obama opposed the so-called Born Alive Infant Protection Act as a state legislator, which led to similar accusations of “infanticide.”

Obama opposed the measure because “infanticide” was, and is, already illegal, and the language of the bill could have been construed to confer rights to a fetus, which could theoretically have been used to restrict abortion rights. Similarly, setting a hard time limit on third-trimester abortions, no matter how “reasonable” it might seem, could theoretically give the government veto power over a doctor (or three) and patient in circumstances that legislators can’t possibly foresee.

Abortion opponents like Marco Rubio are certainly free to make their case against the merits of laws like HB2491, but they should do so using facts, not lies.

Watch the full Ralph Northam interview above, via WTOP.

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