‘A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say,” the journalist Michael Kinsley famously quipped. Earlier this year, Virginia Democrat Kathy Tran committed the worst sort of Kinsleyan gaffe, if the word “gaffe” is appropriate when discussing the horror of what Tran was proposing.
At a legislative hearing in January, Tran’s Republican colleague Todd Gilbert asked her about her bill remove existing restrictions on third-trimester abortions.
“So how late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman?” Gilbert asked. “I’m talking about mental health.”
“I mean, through the third trimester. The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks,” Tran replied.
“So where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth, she has physical signs that she’s about to give birth, would that still be a point at which she could still request an abortion if she was so certified?” Gilbert asked. “She’s dilating?”
“Mr. Chairman, you know, that would be a decision that the doctor, the physician, and the woman would make,” Tran replied.
“I understand that. I’m asking if your bill allows that,” Gilbert said.
“My bill would allow that, yes,” Tran replied.
Virginia governor Ralph Northam fueled the fire surrounding Tran’s late-term-abortion bill when he made comments about having a “conversation“ with a woman about what should be done with a child born alive with deformities after an attempted third-trimester abortion. Tran’s bill was shot down this year by a subcommittee on a 5–3 party-line vote, but as voters head to the polls next week to decide control of Virginia’s legislature, Republicans are warning that, in handing Democrats unified control of government for the first time in a generation, voters would also be paving the way for Virginia to impose the most extreme abortion laws it has ever had.
“The prevailing wisdom is basically that Republicans have to go squishy on the issue of abortion. Democrats have overreached so far on the issue that we’re seeing it being an extremely effective issue up and down the ballot,” Virginia Republican-party executive director John Findlay tells National Review. “It’s one of our top voting messages across the entire state.”
Yet the polls and most political observers say Republicans have their work cut out for them next Tuesday. Republicans currently control the house of delegates 51–49 and the senate 20–19 (with one vacancy). All 40 senate seats are up for the first time since Donald Trump was elected president, and Virginia’s suburbs have trended Democratic since 2016. There are six GOP-held senate seats in districts that Democratic governor Ralph Northam carried in 2017. Furthermore, a judge required the state to redraw some districts in the House of Delegates because of alleged racial discrimination, and the new lines will likely help Democrats.
“I’d be at least a little surprised if the Republicans held on to either chamber,” Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics tells National Review. “The playing field is pretty good for the Democrats now. We’re talking about a lot of seats in northern Virginia, greater Richmond, Hampton Roads. Those places are all suburban. A lot of these districts are either diverse or they have pretty high formal-education levels, which are two indicators of the Democratic trend these days.”
Democrats at the state level have been plagued by multiple scandals. Governor Northam faced calls to resign after a medical-school yearbook photo appeared to show him in blackface standing next to someone dressed up as a member of the KKK. He originally apologized but later claimed he wasn’t in the photo. Virginia’s Democratic lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax faces rape allegaitions. But a September Washington Post poll found that registered Virginia voters support Democrats over Republicans 49 percent to 42 percent in the fall elections, and a Christopher Newport University poll released Monday showed voters preferring Democrats to Republicans by double digits in four key senate races. “Everything is so nationalized that Trump being in the White House is just more important” to the outcome of next week’s election than the Northam and Fairfax scandals, says Kondik.
The Virginia GOP’s John Findlay blames a “compliant news media that has spent zero time” really investigating Northam and Fairfax. “We’re using Northam as a cudgel in most of our target districts across the state,” says Findlay. One glimmer of hope for Republicans is that the polls have underestimated Republican support before, as recently as 2013 and 2014.
But Democrats have a strong advantage in campaign cash. The Virginia Public Access Project reported in mid October that Democrats had raised $32 million this year, while Republicans had raised only $21 million. And outside spending is favoring the Democrats as well. The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List is spending $200,000 in Virginia, but the pro-abortion-rights Emily’s List is spending $2.1 million.
Some Democrats have also blunted the GOP’s message about late-term abortion by running away from the abortion bill sponsored by Kathy Tran. After the backlash, U.S. senator Tim Kaine said he opposed Tran’s bill, and one of the Democrats who voted for it in committee said he probably would vote against it if it came up again. But most Democrats stayed silent. After Republican candidate Kelly McGinn hit delegate Danica Roem, a Democrat and the first transgender member of the Virginia legislature, for supporting the abortion bill, Roem finally publicly opposed the bill this month.
But even if Democrats have obscured the radical nature of their abortion agenda, Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, warns that an extreme agenda is exactly what Democrats will implement if they gain complete control of Virginia’s government for the first time in nearly three decades.
“There are no more pro-life Democrats in Virginia,” says Turner. “Currently there are no sitting members of the general assembly on the Democratic side who oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.” Virginia, like most states, prohibits state tax dollars from being used to fund elective abortions for Medicaid recipients. Among the states that do fund Medicaid abortions, only seven have done so voluntarily, while the other ten are under court mandates to do so. Providing taxpayer funding of abortion for Medicaid recipients has a dramatic effect in increasing the abortion rate.
“If they get full control, it is their avowed intention — and they said as much during the general assembly — to pass a radical agenda that mirrors the one that passed in New York, stripping out all of Virginia’s . . . reasonable pro-life laws,” says Turner. “Kathy Tran’s bill was not the only bill introduced to achieve that agenda last year. There were actually eight bills.”
One would end Virginia’s 24-hour waiting period for abortion. Another bill would declare abortion a “fundamental right.” After that bill and a Senate bill identical to Kathy Tran’s bill failed to advance in committee, Democratic governor Ralph Northam said, “When we can’t change people’s minds, we change seats.” While Virginia Democrats might find the specific language of the Tran bill too toxic to bring up again in 2020, it is clear is that they will push their agenda as far as they think they can if they win full control. This time, they might just try to do a better job of concealing the truth about what they are trying to accomplish.
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