The Corner

Politics & Policy

Ralph Northam Obtained Abortion Talking Points from Planned Parenthood and NARAL

Ralph Northam at a campaign stop in Richmond, Va., in 2017. (File photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Documents uncovered from earlier this year show that Virginia governor Ralph Northam obtained talking points on abortion policy from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

The documents were released today by Judicial Watch, which filed requests in February under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, seeking records of communication between Northam’s staff related to abortion or the abortion bill sponsored earlier this year by state representative Kathy Tran. The group also requested records of communication between Northam’s staff and Planned Parenthood or the abortion-advocacy PAC EMILY’s List.

Judicial Watch filed the requests immediately after Northam defended Tran’s abortion bill, which would’ve amended Virginia law to allow abortion later in pregnancy and, as Tran admitted in a hearing, even during delivery. In a late-January radio interview, Northam attempted to justify his support for the bill, saying: “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.”

Though Northam later attempted to clarify his comments, he never walked back the substance of what he said, making clear that he believes it is acceptable, at least in some cases, for physicians to deny medical care to infants who were meant to have been aborted.

According to the e-mails Judicial Watch obtained, Alexsis Rodgers, a former policy director in Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax’s office, used a Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia (PPAV) email account to send suggested “topline messages for Northam” to PPAV representative Missy Wesolowski, who sent them to Gena Berger, Virginia’s deputy secretary of Health and Human Services.

Rodgers sent that email just hours after Northam’s radio interview, suggesting talking points such as:

  • There is no such thing as an abortion up until birth.
  • These are complicated medical decisions that families deserve to make in private without political interference.
  • As a physician, I know how important it is to trust my patients and for my patients to trust me.
  • Despite sensationalized and insensitive commentary from anti-abortion extremists, we are talking about circumstances in which the health and life of the pregnant person is at risk.

What’s more, Berger corresponded in mid January with a communications official from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, asking her to provide talking points for Northam’s scheduled appearance with the group to promote bills that would loosen restrictions on abortion in Virginia.

The chummy relationship between Northam and Virginia’s prominent abortion-advocacy groups didn’t begin with these emails. During his 2017 campaign, Northam received $3 million from Planned Parenthood’s Virginia affiliate, as well as nearly $20,000 from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, which endorsed him in the Democratic primary. That Northam would parrot pro-abortion talking points comes as little surprise.

But it ought to come as a concern, even to those who fall somewhere in the middle on abortion policy. It is understandable for a politician to shape his positions based in part on information he gathers from groups and experts he trusts. It is another thing entirely for him to have his policy stances and talking points directly crafted by members of political-advocacy organizations, groups that stand to turn a financial profit from having the governor champion their preferred policies.

Progressives notice this sort of corruption when it comes to unsavory ties between banks, financial regulators, and the SEC. Gun-control advocates are quick to insist that Republican politicians who accept donations from the National Rifle Association only support the Second Amendment for corrupt reasons. But when it comes to abortion, progressives are all too happy to entertain the sort of entanglement exemplified by Northam and these pro-abortion groups.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to clarify that Rodgers was no longer an employee of the lieutenant governor at the time that she shared talking points with Northam’s administration.

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