The Corner

Politics & Policy

What Did Ralph Northam Really Say about Abortion?

Virginia governor Ralph Northam speaks during a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2019. (Jay Paul/Reuters)

Thanks to President Trump’s penchant for keeping a story alive if he thinks it’ll be damaging to Democrats, disgraced Virginia governor Ralph Northam is back under the microscope for comments he made at the end of January about abortion late in pregnancy and medical care for infants.

At a rally in Wisconsin on Saturday night, Trump noted that the state’s Democratic governor Tony Evers “shockingly stated that he will veto legislation that protects Wisconsin babies born alive,” referring to a bill that would require doctors to provide medical care to infants born alive in the course of an attempted abortion procedure.

Trump then referenced Northam’s comments during a late-January radio interview, in support of a Virginia bill that would’ve made it easier for women to obtain an abortion during the last three months of pregnancy. “The baby is born. The mother meets with the doctor,” Trump said at the rally, describing Northam’s remarks. “They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby. I don’t think so.”

In his typical fashion, Trump was overstating what Northam had said; the governor never mentioned “executing” babies. Media outlets were quick to accuse the president of “offer[ing] incendiary falsehood on abortion” and to put an unbelievably pleasant spin on Northam’s remarks. Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), meanwhile, called Trump “deranged” and suggested that his comment would cause violence.

But what did the Virginia governor actually say about care for newborn infants — and was Trump’s representation really that off the mark?

Let’s recall the context of Northam’s radio interview. In late January, Democratic delegate Kathy Tran proposed a bill to expand abortion rights in Virginia during the last three months of pregnancy. Her legislation would have relaxed existing health exceptions, allowing abortion up until birth if the abortionist agreed that not receiving the procedure would harm a woman’s mental health. During a hearing, Tran stated that the bill would permit a mother to obtain an abortion even during labor.

In an interview with WTOP the day after that hearing, Northam was asked to explain Tran’s comment and his own support for the bill. Here’s what he said:

When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physician — more than one physician, by the way — and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non-viable.

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.

Northam didn’t say anything about “executing” infants, but he’s clearly condoning allowing at least some infants to die after birth if they were meant to have been aborted a few minutes earlier. His statement is also built on a false premise: that abortions late in pregnancy happen in cases of “severe deformities.” For one thing, this phrase is often used by supporters of abortion rights as a euphemism for non-fatal conditions such as Down syndrome. For another, his claim is contradicted by data suggesting that most women who seek abortions after viability do so for reasons other than fetal-health complications (or maternal-health complications, for that matter).

Northam never backtracked from what he had said during the interview, despite facing intense criticism from conservatives — mitigated, of course, by mainstream sources who ran cover for him and distorted what he had said, much like outlets did again this past weekend. The governor’s spokesperson released a statement at the time essentially doubling down on the initial remarks, insisting that the right to abortion includes, at least in some cases, the right to discuss with a doctor whether it is appropriate to deny medical care to a living newborn infant.

It’s worth noting that CNN commentator Karen Finney, a board member of influential pro-abortion lobbying group NARAL, appeared on a “Reliable Sources” panel yesterday to attack Trump and essentially restated Northam’s remarks, almost word for word, as her own position on the issue. Far from being mainstream, Northam’s articulation of abortion rights and post-birth care represents the most far-left position any politician can take.

It’s deeply disheartening that we even need to debate whether vulnerable newborn infants should be given legal rights and adequate medical care. But this is a debate that the pro-life movement can easily win; huge majorities of Americans support giving care to newborn infants, even those that survive abortion procedures. Democrats would be suffering even more for their extremism on this issue if it weren’t for journalists who spread misinformation to provide cover for the dehumanization of unwanted fetuses and infants.

Most Popular


Men Literally Died for That Flag, You Idiots

The American flag’s place in our culture is beginning to look less unassailable. The symbol itself is under attack, as we’ve seen with Nike dumping a shoe design featuring an early American flag, Megan Rapinoe defending her national-anthem protests (she says she will never sing the song again), and ... Read More

The Plot against Kavanaugh

Justice on Trial, by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino (Regnery,  256 pp., $28.99) The nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the political event of 2018, though not for the reasons anyone expected. All High Court confirmations these days are fraught with emotion and tumult ... Read More
Politics & Policy

He Just Can’t Help Himself

By Saturday, the long-simmering fight between Nancy Pelosi and her allies on one side and the “squad” associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other had risen to an angrier and more destructive level at the Netroots Nation conference. Representative Ayanna Pressley, an African-American Massachusetts ... Read More
White House

On Gratitude and Immigration

Like both Rich and David, I consider it flatly inappropriate for the president of the United States to be telling Americans -- rhetorically or otherwise -- to “go back where you came from.” In consequence, you will find no defense of the president from me, either. What Trump tweeted over the weekend was ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated

Beto O’Rourke, the losing Texas Senate candidate who bootstrapped his way into becoming a losing presidential candidate, had a message for refugees who had come to America: Your new country is a hellhole. The former congressman told a roundtable of refugees and immigrants in Nashville, Tenn., last week: ... Read More

We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team

For the first time in my life, I did not root for an American team. Whatever the sport, I have always rooted American. And if those who called in to my radio show were representative of my audience, many millions of Americans made the same sad choice. It takes a lot for people like me not to root for an ... Read More

Gender Dissenter Gets Fired

Allan M. Josephson is a distinguished psychiatrist who, since 2003, has transformed the division of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology at the University of Louisville from a struggling department to a nationally acclaimed program. In the fall of 2017 he appeared on a panel at the Heritage Foundation ... Read More