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The truth behind Virginia’s rejected abortion bill

Despite what conservatives say, this is not infanticide.


Alex Dalbey


Posted on Jan 31, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 8:15 pm CDT

An abortion bill in the Virginia House of Delegates caught national attention this week when Republicans claimed it would legalize infanticide, stirring outrage on social media.

Freshman Democrat Kathy Tran introduced the bill in early January, but it didn’t get national attention until the Virginia House GOP posted a video of House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert questioning Tran about the bill. Gilbert asked Tran if abortion would be allowed moments before birth, and Tran, after clarifying that this would be decided by a physician, said, “My bill would allow that, yes.”

This immediately riled up anti-abortion activists and politicians. Conservatives like to call what is medically defined as a late-term abortion a “partial-birth abortion,” which is a political term created by the anti-abortion organization National Right to Life Committee in the 1990s. In fact, current Virginia abortion law requires that life support is utilized if there is any sign of viability.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and a physician with decades of experience in pediatrics, attempted to calm the waters in his monthly appearance on the radio station WTOP. He described what kind of situation a late-term abortion might take place in, saying, “It’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that is non-viable. So, 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.”

However, the clip that was shared on Twitter, often by conservatives, leaves out the context of what cases a late-term abortion would be considered in.

While Republicans cry infanticide, a look at the letter of the law shows something pretty different. The fact is, abortions are already allowed this late by Virginia law in cases where it’s necessary to “prevent the woman’s death or impairment of her mental or physical health.” This bill would have reduced the number of physicians who need to approve the abortion from three to one, and also would have got rid of the requirement that the harm be “substantial and irremediable.” In other words, the scenario that Republicans rallied against is already completely legal, there are just more barriers.

H/T New York Magazine

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*First Published: Jan 31, 2019, 12:42 pm CST