Gov. Northam, Democratic leaders address controversial abortion debate

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia’s Democratic leaders held a press conference Thursday afternoon in the wake of the release of a controversial viral video and statements the governor made on late-term abortions the day before.   

In an opening statement, the governor, who was met with applause and cheers, said he aimed to “set the record straight” on where Virginia Democrats stand on issues on women’s reproductive health. 

“Virginia Democrats are on the side of ensuring women have access to the healthcare they need. There is a fundamental difference between us and the Republicans, in what we believe on a woman’s right to choose. We believe legislators, most of whom are men, should not be making decisions about women’s choices for their reproductive health.” 

“My Republican friends believe in something different,” Northam continued, “and that is no secret. We can agree to disagree on this topic but we can be civil about it.”

Before Democrats spoke on Thursday, Virginia’s Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Kirk Cox, Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, Del. Emily Brewer and Del. Kathy Brown, held a press conference about late-term abortion legislation. 

The two press conferences came a day after Northam made national headlines following a local radio station interview on late-term abortions.

Northam spoke on a radio station, WTOP-FM, on Wednesday and responded to questions about a video of Democratic Del. Kathy Tran speaking about a bill she’s proposing during a subcommittee hearing.

Del. Tran’s bill, HB 2491, would eliminate specific requirements for late-term abortions in Virginia, including reducing the number of doctors, from three to one, needed to certify a third-trimester abortion.

The bill would also get rid of the need “to find that any such impairment to the woman’s health would be substantial and irremediable.”

RELATED: 8News sat down with Del. Tran about the video in a one-on-one interview on Wednesday. 

In the video, Republican Del. Todd Gilbert asks Del. Tran about a potential situation regarding late-term abortions. Gilbert asks Tran if a pregnant woman who is dilated could be allowed an abortion, under her bill, if a physician confirms the mother’s health was in danger.

“My bill would allow that, yes,” Del. Tran says in the video. The video received heavy criticism after its release.

During his radio interview, Northam said he believed Del. Tran’s comments on the video were “really blown out of proportion.” 

The governor then spoke about the options mothers have when broached with a hypothetical scenario where an infant that was unable to survive or severely deformed after birth.  

“In this particular example, 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,” Northam told WTOP-FM on Wednesday.  

Northam and Del. Tran’s comments were met with backlash from Virginia’s Republican lawmakers and even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.  

Sen. Rubio wrote on Twitter about Northam’s comments: “I never thought I would see the day America had government officials who openly support legal infanticide.”

After brief statements from Attorney General Mark Herring and Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D- Fairfax), the governor took three questions from reporters on Thursday.

When asked if he could elaborate on the language he used during his radio interview, in regards to resuscitation and conversations with parents, Northam spoke about his experience interacting with patients and how he felt it was meant to stay private.  

“I have practiced medicine for now over 30 years, I can certainly say as a child neurologist, I have had very difficult conversations with patients and their families during very tragic times and that is why those discussions should be between a physician, such as myself, and the patient. And it just reaffirms why the legislature, again most of whom are men, should not be interfering with a women’s access to reproductory healthcare.” 

Ofirah Yheskel, Northam’s spokesperson, released a statement following the response from Republican lawmakers to the governor’s radio station interview. It read, in part: 

“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

Virginia law currently prohibits third-trimester abortions, except in the extreme circumstances in which a woman’s life or health is at risk and that risk is certified by three physicians.”       

                                                     -Ofirah Yheskel, Gov. Northam spokesperson

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