Virginia abortion: What is the late-term bill and would it really allow for infanticide?

The bill has already failed in the Virginia House, but sparked a political firestorm anyway

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 06 February 2019 18:14
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Kathy Tran responds to backlash against her bill The Repeal Act HB2491

An abortion bill in Virginia has sparked a political firestorm in the US after a video showing a Democratic sponsor of the proposed legislation saying that the law, if enacted, would allow for abortions all the way up until the moment before birth.

As the video spread online last week, Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, contested that the bill being considered would actually lead to infanticide.

The law comes just after the 2018 midterms delivered sweeping victories to Democrats across the country, and after the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year. Those two developments have led many to believe that a major debate over abortion rights is brewing.

Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly is the controversy and how did it start?

This all began when Democrat Kathy Tran was filmed discussing a bill she is sponsoring that would loosen the restrictions on late-term abortions.

In the video, Ms Tran is seen telling Virginia House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert that her bill would allow abortions even when a woman is dilating.

“My bill would allow that, yes”, Ms Tran says when asked about the dilation scenario.

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Would it actually allow an abortion during dilation?

Mr Northam — a physician in his private life — has contested the idea.

“I wasn’t there … and I certainly can’t speak for Delegate Tran, but … first thing I would say is: This is why decisions such as this should be made by providers — physicians and the mothers and fathers that are involved”, Mr Northam said when asked about the comment by the press.

He then clarified the issue, noting that the late term abortions would only allow for the procedure when a doctor consents, when parents are consenting, and when the procedure is actually warranted: When they are medically applicable or when a fetus is not viable.

What has been the criticism?

Critics, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, have called support of the bill as tantamount to infanticide.

“I never thought I would see the day America had government officials who openly support legal infanticide”, Mr Rubio tweeted.

Donald Trump as even weighed in, using the proposed bill as another opportunity to bash his 2016 opponent HIllary Clinton.

“I thought it was terrible,” the president this week, referring to Ms Tran’s statements.

He continued, referring at a misleading attack he used during the campaign that Ms Clinton called a “scare tactic” during a debate: “Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb? That’s what it is, that’s what they’re doing, it’s terrible”.

What is the president referring to in his attack on Ms Clinton?

Here is the exchange between the two during the final presidential debate in 2016:

“If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” Mr Trump said.

“That is not what happens in these cases,” Clinton replied. “And using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate”.

What would the bill actually do?

The statute change would reduce the number of physicians needed for late-term abortion approval from three to one, and would allow the procedure for any medical reason (including a woman’s mental health).

The bill would have also allowed for second-term abortions to be performed outside of licensed hospitals.

The bill would not have allowed for abortions after a baby has entered the birth canal, however.

Will this become law in Virginia?

No. While Democrats control the governor’s mansion, the state House has already rejected the plan.

How does this fit into the broader US debate on abortion?

Abortion has been a contentious issue in American politics for generations, and the issue has been thrust back into the spotlight in a major way in just the past few months after Mr Kavanaugh — a conservative justice — was confirmed to his post.

That confirmation has led some to wonder if the Supreme Court might be priming itself to overturn or significantly alter the contentious Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. And, during Mr Trump's second State of the Union address on Tuesday, the president brought the issue to head, mentioning both the Virginia bill and another bill passed in New York State that allows for abortions in the 24th week of pregnancy if there is a risk to the life of the mother and/or the fetus is not viable.

"There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days," Mr Trump said during his speech. "Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments from birth".

He continued: "These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth. To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother's womb. Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life".

Mr Northam did not actually say he approves of executions for babies.

In the decades since the Wade decision in 1973, states across the country have experimented with how restrictive or permissive they can be with their abortion laws.

Liberals in the US tend to worry about conservative efforts to establish stringent rules and scenarios under which an abortion can take place, which they believe could limit constitutional abortions (or force women to seek out abortions away from medical professionals and put themselves in danger).

Conservatives, meanwhile, worry about liberals making rules so relaxed around abortions that they can happen in scenarios where a child is very close to birth and healthy but aborted anyway.

What are Republicans doing?

Republicns reportedly plan on forcing a vote on the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would penalise doctors and healthcare professioanls who do not provide meidcal care to babies who survive abortions. Their latest plan is to force such a vote in the House, and have failed to force a vote on a similar measure in the Senate.

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