Governor Northam's Other Controversy

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam at a press conference in Richmond last month ( Image )

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam at a press conference in Richmond last month (Image)


Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has had what political pundits might call a bad month. A racist photograph and nickname in his yearbook led the Governor to hold press conferences to explain and apologize for his behavior. Once it became obvious his apology would not be enough to regain the goodwill of Virginians, he then held another conference where he denied any involvement, but Northam also admitted to once wearing blackface while imitating Michael Jackson at a Halloween party. Why he chose to reveal this tidbit is mystifying, since most people would not consider this admission as exculpatory evidence. Certainly, Northam’s apology tour will likely consume the remaining three years of his governorship as he advocates racial reconciliation policies such as reparations to atone for the hurt he caused.

However, another political controversy embroiled Northam only two days prior, one that received considerable rotation in conservative media but virtual radio silence in the mainstream outlets: Governor Northam’s comments on abortion. Abortion is perhaps one of the most divisive issues in American politics, with a plurality of single-issue voters pointing to it as the policy on which their vote is cast. Nevertheless, the pro-life community is often mischaracterized as a fringe extremist group of old white men, with their policy goals misconstrued as an effort to control women’s bodies and subjugate them to second-class citizenship.

The pro-life argument embodies the idea that all human life has equally intrinsic moral value, including those unborn from conception. It is the same philosophy behind the idea that the owner of Amazon is no more deserving of life than a singular worker in one of his factories. Life’s value is not determined by material wealth, education level, measurable success, or any other barometer; it remains constant across all variables including race, sex, age, sexuality, etc. It follows that, as living human beings, fetuses are entitled to the same protections granted to born persons.

Of course, if one does not hold the morals behind the pro-life movement, then abortion makes perfectly moral sense; even so, many who do hold said morals cannot agree on when human life begins, whether at conception or viability or heartbeat or some other metric. This is why there is much debate over what the acceptable legal range to have an abortion should be. If a fetus is not considered living, then where lies the harm?

Governor Northam’s comments on the issue came at a time in which a bill legalizing abortion up until the moment of birth was being discussed on the floor of the Virginia state legislature. Delegate Kathy Tran, the bill’s sponsor, explicitly stated that if a woman was in the process of giving birth, but the baby was not yet born, she would be able to seek and receive an abortion if it was deemed to cause physical or mental risk. This is certainly one ideological extreme of the abortion issue.

However, Governor Northam’s comments later that day while defending the bill took the argument to a completely separate conclusion: abortion survivors might potentially be denied access to medical care to ensure the success of the abortion. In other words, babies born despite abortion attempts could still be killed by negligence. Though the bill does not imply this as a possibility, the Governor’s statements that this is a potential outcome has led to widespread backlash among many across the political spectrum. Here are his remarks, unedited:

“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.”

Broken down, Northam’s comments lead to only one logical conclusion: a successful birth offers no safe haven for abortion survivors. Republicans labeled his stance as legalized infanticide, and without any clarification due to the emergence of Northam’s racism scandal, no clear answers are available.

If Northam himself did not clarify this stance to mean something else, other Democrats solidified the Republican interpretation by voting to block Senator Ben Sasse’s Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. In a 53 to 44 vote largely along party lines, with Democrats Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Bob Casey joining with Republicans to support the bill, Democratic Senators were able to prevent reaching the 60-vote threshold that would end filibuster on the legislation. Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bernie Sanders all voted against the bill.

It no longer matters what exactly Governor Northam meant in his comments; the fact that Democrats are blocking bills that protect against potential “infanticide” has pushed the Republican interpretation of his statement into the mainstream Democratic platform. The pro-life movement often comes under attack for appearing not to care about children once they’re born and in some cases, this critique is valid. Maybe this same criticism will now be applied to Democrats now that they have voted against legitimate protections of life for babies who are out of the womb.