There’s no defending VA Gov. Northam’s comments on full-term abortion bill

There’s no defending VA Gov. Northam’s comments on full-term abortion bill
VA Gov. Ralph Northam (D) supports full-term abortion bill on air. WTOP video

After a video of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam went viral on Wednesday, a handful of pundits were anxious to put his comments in context.

The governor was speaking as a guest on a radio show, discussing the Virginia assembly bill sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran that would allow “abortions” of babies being born at full term.  During the interview, Northam — a pediatrician — said the following:

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Outrage and disgust ensued from pro-life Americans.  Northam’s office issued a clarification: he was talking about what happens when a severely impaired baby is born, one who isn’t viable outside the womb, and parents and doctors have to make tough decisions about intervention.  Intervention could be to save, as opposed to not saving, a newborn who literally won’t be able to live at any point without extraordinary measures.  It could be to abort a medically non-viable baby, even in the third trimester.

A few conservative pundits, including cartoonist Scott Adams, seemed concerned to rein in the backlash.  Northam wasn’t making a case for how full-term abortions of viable infants would play out.  He shouldn’t be attacked as if he was.

Adams and others have done us a service by pointing this out.  But it’s wrong to suggest that this changes the implications of Northam’s comments.  It actually makes them worse.

The real context point regarding Northam’s comments isn’t that he was addressing a heartbreaking problem that sometimes arises.  The real context point is that he was incorporating that reference in a discussion of a full-term abortion proposal for babies in any condition – which is not about making such decisions.

The only reason to introduce the Tran bill is this: in situations like the one outlined by Northam, it is already legal and accepted to do what he described – but that’s not what full-term abortion, as defined in the Tran bill, is.  The Tran bill’s unfettered full-term abortion is something else.  (See David French’s treatment, linked above.) That’s why it’s not legal.  That’s why it would need its own law.

Northam was at fault in two ways here.  First, he discussed dealing with a severely impaired newborn in the context of the Tran bill, as if it offered an analogy for how things might be handled if the bill became law.  He may not have announced “This is an analogy,” but he omitted to make the distinction.

That created the moral problem.  The only correct way to present the impaired-infant reference would be to explicitly say, “This is not an analogy.  This is a different situation.”

That’s because the Tran bill is about allowing women and doctors to “abort” – kill – a 40-week-old baby who is fully viable outside the womb, for any reason that occurs to the mother.

Virginia doesn’t allow that now because it’s not the same situation as the one outlined by Northam, in which the baby’s condition dictates a dilemma.

Northam was irresponsible, at best, to let stand the implication that dealing with a severely impaired infant, who isn’t viable, is just sort of the same thing as deciding to kill an infant who is viable.  That moral elision is soul-destroying.  It’s exactly the central point, and Northam should know that.

He was speaking in support of the Tran bill when he made the impaired-baby reference.  Sorry, you can’t accuse other people of misconstruing your intent if you do that without heralding any such reference – in that context – with a trumpet fanfare and a caveat.

Northam’s first error was implying that there’s no distinction here, either morally or in terms of what the situation itself dictates from a purely medical standpoint.  Non-viable baby versus viable baby?  Medically, two different things.   As a physician, Northam should be the first to want clarity on this latter point.

The second error is failing to highlight that what he described in the impaired-baby example is already legal.  The obvious implication of that is that no such bill as Tran’s is needed, to ensure that parents and doctors have the proper authority to make the decisions in a situation like Northam’s.

No, Northam merits no defense here.  Parse it however you like: he was speaking in support of a full-term, unfettered abortion bill, and his heart wasn’t there to clarify (or, better, avoid) a misleading, wrongly placed comparison.  That’s what matters, in the end.  His heart wasn’t there – to defend the baby’s life and the moral basis of civilization, rather than casually supporting self-inflicted, uncontainable moral blindness.

Thirty years ago, “pro-choice” advocates insisted that things would never come to this – to the concept of killing babies at the moment of full-term birth.  But things have.  The pro-life warnings of earlier years are all coming to pass.  These next two will come to pass as well.

If America tolerates killing babies at full term, then in short order, it won’t be up to the mother anymore.  Others – namely, the government – will be empowered to have “any reason at all” to kill healthy, viable newborn babies.

And if America tolerates killing babies at full term, it won’t be long until it isn’t just babies who can be killed for “any reason at all.”

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J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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