Unraveling the Ralph Northam Infanticide Controversy

Background. The past several weeks have been full of controversy for three of Virginia’s leading Democratic politicians – Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring. The local, state and national media have been focused on allegations of racism against Northam and Herring and sexual assault against Fairfax. However, prior to the media onslaught regarding racism and rape Governor Ralph Northam was embroiled in another controversy regarding comments he made during a radio show. During that radio interview Gov. Northam said some things that some people felt condoned, or even supported, infanticide. What did Ralph Northam say (in context) and did he really condone or support infanticide?

Timeline. Gov. Northam did not make his comments about abortion — and, in the minds of some — infanticide, in a vacuum. They were part of an ongoing debate about third trimester abortion. Here is a timeline of events:

Jan 9, 2019 – Del Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, prefiles HB 2419 – Abortion; eliminate certain requirements. The bill reduces restrictions on third trimester abortions. Most notably, it reduces the number of physicians required to approve a third trimester abortion from three to one and removes the terminology “substantial and irredeemable” from the current law (which requires “substantial and irredeemable” damage to a woman’s mental or physical health as a reason for a third term abortion).

Jan 9, 2019 – HB 2419 is referred to Committee for Courts and Justice.

Jan 28, 2019 – During debate in the General Assembly, Tran (answering questions posed by Del Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock)) says that her bill would allow an abortion after labor has started. Watch the video of the debate here.

Jan 28, 2019 – Sub-committee of Courts and Justice recommends laying on the table (5-Y, 3-N).  In other words, the sub-committee killed the bill.

Jan 29, 2019 – Tran “walks back” her comments during the General Assembly debate via a Twitter video (scroll down to Jan 31 to see the video). Her claim in the Twitter video that her bill would not materially change existing law is rated “False” by Politifact.

Jan 30, 2019 – Northam speaks with NBC4’s Julie Carey regarding the Tran bill.  An audio file of the dialogue between Carey and Northam is embedded in this article. This is the 2:20 discussion that provoked the outrage regarding Northam’s possible support of infanticide.

Jan 30, 2019 – Gov Northam’s spokesman Ofirah Yheskel issues a statement saying in part, “The governor’s comments were limited to the actions physicians would take in the event that a woman [facing nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities] went into labor”.

Jan 31, 2019 – Del Tran “walks back” her comments a second time. “I wish that I was quicker on my feet and I wish that I was able to be more agile in that moment. And I misspoke, and I really regret that. I should have said: ‘Clearly, no, because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth.’ ”

Feb 1, 2019 – A photograph from Ralph Northam’s personal page in his medical school yearbook shows a man in blackface and a man in Klan robes. It has been rumored that the photo was brought to public attention by an unnamed person who was outraged by Northam’s comments on the Jan 30 radio show.

Caveat. At this point in this post the factual recitation of events ends and opinion begins.

A Pelosi moment. Northam was clearly being asked about Kathy Tran’s bill during the radio interview. That bill lowers the justification requirements for a third trimester abortion and specifically lowers the requirements for the amount of damage to the mother’s  mental and physical health needed to justify a third trimester abortion. The bill also reduces the number of physicians needed to certify from three to one. Northam’s answer initially addressed the Tran bill. Then, the Governor had a dissociative break. A Pelosi moment. He inexplicably switched from discussing the Tran bill to discussing third trimester abortions in cases where the fetus/baby is nonviable or suffering from severe fetal abnormalities. Neither of these conditions are germane to the changes in existing law that Kathy Tran proposed in her bill. He clearly did support infanticide in the case of a resuscitated baby born with severe abnormalities. This was more along the lines of a “do not resuscitate (again)” order for an adult than the killing of a baby who threatens the mother’s mental health.

Saved by the second doc. NBC reporter Julie Carey tried to pull our mentally meandering governor back to the topic at hand. Carey asked about the number of doctors required to certify. Northam thought that a second opinion from a second doctor was necessary – a clear contradiction to the Tran bill. This indicates that Northam had mysteriously veered away from the Tran bill and was now on his own odd tangent. This is especially baffling since Northam has publicly stated that he supports Kathy Tran’s bill, which supports a single physician (without a second opinion) as the requirement to certify the need for a third trimester abortion. See this video of Northam.

Bottom line. Northam did not support infanticide in the context of the Tran bill. He did not oppose infanticide in the context of the Tran bill either. He failed to answer that question at all. A listener who heard the interview should be forgiven for assuming that Northam was answering the question he was actually asked (and started to answer). Virginians are left wondering exactly where our governor stands on Kathy Tran’s proposed (and rejected) legislation, especially as it relates to abortion after the start of labor.

Lessons learned for Northam. First, try to stay focused. When asked about a specific question try to respond to the question at hand. If you decide to change the topic make sure it is clear to all that you are changing the topic. Second, do your homework. It appeared that Northam didn’t really know what was in the Tran bill. Perhaps that’s why he went on his bizarre soliloquy. Third (and most importantly), learn a lesson from Kathy Tran’s second “walkback”  … when a shambolic public statement comes back to bite you in the ass, walk it back fully, honestly and completely. Admit that you misspoke or failed to answer the question you were asked. Explain where you really stand on the matter. Had Northam done this … that picture of the guys in blackface and Klan robes might still be lost in the dusty basement of his medical school’s library.

— Don Rippert

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22 responses to “Unraveling the Ralph Northam Infanticide Controversy

  1. This is a made-up wedge issue that the pro-life folks are pushing and the GOP sees it as exploitable at the next election.

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    We let people go at the end of their lives, sometimes they themselves refuse life-saving treatment, they create Medical directives for end of life to include DNR – do not resuscitate. At other times, family has to decide if the person is unconscious and there is almost no prospect for recovery or a real “life” – to “pull the plug”.

    Sadly, the same type of thing can and does happen at the beginning of life – such as a child with no brain or a child who can only survive on life support – indefinitely.

    We have trouble with these concepts. Some of us will not accept any end-of-life measures… they’re just opposed to them. Others see extending life when the person is no longer with us – as futile .. almost ghoulish in that you’re just keeping a “body” alive.

    But some of us cannot leave this alone and have to politicize it and others in politics see it as a way to gain political advantage.

    What Northam did was just inept. What Tran did was equally inept in that she intended to make a statement – knowing that if she screwed it up – a hate-storm would ensure – and she did and it did.

    Somewhere, somehow, there has to be principled people here that acknowledge the realities of life and end of life and the serious difficulties we have as individuals in our own views – as well as reconciling them with others that have strong different views.

    long story short – we are an ignorant bunch – when we claim to be the most intelligent forms of life on earth – and we relentlessly continue to inflict damage on each other over this instead of trying to find some level of common ground.

    Some of us WANT this WAR – sadly.

  2. If there is no need for third trimester abortions then why did Kathy Tran put forth her bill?

    If third trimester abortions would only be performed when the fetus / baby is nonviable or has severe abnormalities why did Tran’s bill change the language of current law with respect to the mental and physical health of the mother? Why not focus on the health of the fetus?

    Maybe the lack of third trimester abortions in Virginia is because current law makes performing such abortions difficult. If passed, would Tran’s bill change that?

    Northam is inept.

    • I do not know why Tran did what she did – but any fool with half a brain would realize they were handing the anti-abortion folks the perfect weapon and the GOP was/is more than happy to also use it.

      I’m no supporter of Tran nor 3rd Trimester abortions but I’m also no supporter of keeping someone – a child or a senior “alive” when they are not viable and never will be. Someone has to pay to keep these folks alive and are we essentially going ot have entire warehouses full of bodies than we can keep alive but that will never be conscious or able to interrelate with anything else alive?

      Our technology has reached the point where we CAN do this and some of us seem incapable of dealing with the downstream realities of keeping “bodies” … “alive” – no matter their chronological age.

      More of us seem able to accept letting older folks go but less of us are willing to accept that fate for fetus or newborns.

      So we CHOOSE to be at war with each other over this even as kids around the world starve to death by the thousands daily.

      • I understand your point but it’s somewhat tangential to the issue at hand. Here are the questions at hand (I think) …

        In the case of a viable fetus / baby without severe abnormalities should a third trimester abortion be allowed because of presumed / expected/ possible mental or physical harm to the mother?

        In the case of a viable fetus / baby without severe abnormalities what constitutes the end of the third trimester and the beginning of personhood for the fetus / baby? The start of labor? Physical separation of the baby from the mother (i.e. live birth)?

        In the unlikely case that a third trimester abortion fails and the fetus / baby is born alive, viable and without severe abnormalities what should happen?

        Please note that I’m not making a statement one way or the other regarding abortion or Tran’s bill. I am asking the questions that needed to be answered before the General Assembly voted to pass Tran’s bill.

    • As far as “why” isn’t this an issue that a Virginia pro-choice group has been trying to bring up every year? And so wasn’t Tran basically being the conduit of that special interest group? presumably she was willing to support that issue.

      Some of us interpreted Northam’s meandering as trying to support Tran in her walking-back of her statements.

      • “Some of us interpreted Northam’s meandering as trying to support Tran in her walking-back of her statements.”

        I considered that but when he called for a second physician to provide a second opinion he was directly contradicting Tran’s bill.

        You’ve heard of the Hamburgler? We have the Govbungler.

        The real issue for the Governor formerly known as Coonman was his subsequent statement (issued through his press secretary). The proposed legislation was dead. He could have cleared the whole matter up by saying that he wasn’t discussing the Tran bill in that interview and legitimate questions were raised regarding the proposed legislation and that any future attempts to re-introduce such legislation would require considerably more detail to accompany the bill.

  3. We saw the unrehearsed, unprepared Northam at his worst a bit later in the news conference at the Mansion. There is a reason why so many successful politicians are also practiced trial lawyers, or at least some other profession requiring oral communication skills (ahem, Ronnie Reagan, preachers, teachers).

    The failure was on the part of the House Democratic leadership, which should not have sent a lamb into the lion’s den of a Courts of Justice subcommittee, not with that bill. I have 35 years in that game and I stay out of Courts of Justice and leave it to the lawyers. Gilbert stands out now but 30 years ago he would have been only one of many you didn’t want cross examining you. As a spectator it was wonderful sport, but bloody.

    Thanks for pulling all the threads into one package, Don. I will spend some time with this.

    • Tran’s defense of her proposed legislation in the General Assembly was incompetent. I guess those degrees from Duke and the University of Michigan didn’t do much in regard to teaching logic or inculcating the need to be prepared. Nothing she was asked should have come as a surprise. This proposed bill was endlessly covered in the media and a similar bill passed in New York.

      Once Tran publicly put both feet in her mouth Northam should have avoided the question altogether citing the fact that the bill had been killed in committee and, therefore, would not cross his desk this year. However, I get the impression that Northam is both arrogant and about as sharp as a cucumber.

  4. I’m pretty much where SCOTUS was in Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992). No restrictions on abortions prior to viability of the fetus. Once a fetus becomes viable (can survive outside the womb with or without medical intervention) I think abortion absent a health reason is problematic.

    How many post 20 week abortions are there? Using data from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion think tank, 1.3% of abortions in the United States are post 20 weeks. The same entity estimates there are 926,200 abortions in the U.S. annually. That gives us about 12,040 late term abortions. https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2019/02/25/infanticide-and-the-left/

    “The FBI’s annual Crime in the United States report breaks down types of weapons used in murders (not all homicides are murders). The report showed a total of 13,455 murders in 2015, of which 9,616 involved firearms.” And CDC statistics, “[b]oring into the 146,571 injury deaths for all age groups, homicide by firearm was the fifth-leading cause (12,979) behind suicide by gun (22,018), accidental fall (33,381), motor vehicle collisions (36,161) and accidental poisoning (47,478), which is mostly drug overdoses.” https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/02/28/guns-and-deaths-in-america-the-numbers/

    So we have around the same number of homicides by firearm than we do late-term abortions and almost 25% more late term abortions than firearm murders.

    Factor in that most Democrats want strong gun control, what does that tell us about the Democratic Party?

  5. Don, Thanks for pulling together the facts as you have done here. Your conclusions are well supported and reasonable.

    • Thank you. Between Tran’s botched defense of her proposed legislation, Northam’s bizarre commentary and Trump’s tweets I wonder if declamation ought to be re-instated into school curricula.

      • Good post and commentary, Don. I would add one question:

        What would have happened to Northam politically and in fact if the Tran Bill had passed the General Assembly as it was proposed and appeared on Northam’s desk? Would he have signed it? What would he have said about it, including its standard of mental health of mother?

        Sometimes politicians, who appear dim witted, and to be easily confused, are dumb like a fox. Not dumb at all. And many of those will say anything for political advantage, even at the risk of appearing dim witted, and confused. I put Northam in both categories, dumb like a fox. And I would not trust him, or believe what is says anytime anywhere. Here we pick up on another bit of wisdom. If a guy chronically tells you how much he loves his wife, you can be sure he does not love his wife. If someone chronically tells you how honest he or she is, you can be sure you can never trust that person because they are not honest when it serves their purpose or just for the hell of it. In my view Northam falls in the latter category here too, as illustrated in his second news conference reversing his first one where said he said that he never lies, because he was president of the VMI honor council at the very same time he was lying.

        • I believe Northam would have signed the Tran bill if it crossed his desk. Flanked by Herring, Saslaw and Fairfax he is on video expressing his support for the bill.

          Northam lost the chance to be considered “crazy like a fox” when he first apologized for being in the yearbook photo and then, the next day, claimed it wasn’t him. A “crazy fox” would have insisted that he needed to understand the provenance of that photo, would have claimed that he’d never seen that photo, etc to buy time. Then, he would have claimed that he wasn’t the guy in the photo. No retracted apology. Of course, he would then have had to concoct the story about having been in blackface at some time in order to explain a possible, more detailed and recognizable photo.

          If you want to think of a “crazy like a fox’ prevaricating politician – think of Bill Clinton. It took surprise DNA evidence to prove his deceit.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Yup, gotta admit you’re likely right, dimwitted, spineless (your word), overly ambitious, likely hits nail on head.

  6. One more comment. All politics these days seems to be about saving us from polar bears. Late term abortions, partial birth abortions, are rare because they are anathema to almost everyone. Had the bill passed, they would have been anathema still and remained rare. It was a bad bill, and it was a very stupid, dumb-ass freshman move on the part of non-doctor, non-expert Tran to be the sponsor. But if Democrats were all smart we wouldn’t have the Current Occupant (who can sail to Term 2 thanks to things like this).

    Only a few discussions I’ve heard since focus on the other option for some cases with a healthy infant but a health-compromised mother, and that’s C-section. Now that I’ve seen the full comment from Ralph, he clearly is talking about an infant with a severe deformity, perhaps a quickly fatal one. With today’s sensors and testing, are there that many surprises that late? But he was not clear and should have just stood back from the question. Anything said on this topic touches a third rail for somebody. Plenty of good people would be appalled at even passive euthanasia in a case like that.

    But there are also plenty of people who consider abortion a Good Thing, a Maternal Right, even with a perfectly healthy, viable child, and I don’t see the Democrats ejecting such people from their party. Those are the people Tran was pandering to, so let the chips fall. The Bible speaks of the old term, “the quickening,” and there comes a point in every pregnancy when that is a human being, period. That is way before dilation starts.

    • “Had the bill passed, they would have been anathema still and remained rare.”

      Steve, I wish that statement was true but, based on studies of human nature and how it works in history, that statement is almost surely false. Such depravities happen again and again throughout history. Human sacrifice, witch burning, baby killings, sexual exploitation and slavery of young children, are always a generation away from all of us, often started and driven by the most educated and cultured. Witness 20th century. Witness life on the main street of Palm Beach now for example.

  7. Your “A Pelosi Moment” makes more sense than anything from the weeks of media drivel on this topic. Thanks for capturing this moment so accurately.

  8. As Peter Singer has logically concluded (https://www.equip.org/article/peter-singers-bold-defense-of-infanticide/), killing a child after birth is morally acceptable if killing a child before birth is acceptable. As DNA tests show, the fetus is a human being that is neither part of the mother nor part of the father. Killing the fetus is killing a human being — an innocent human being. It is the same human being one minute before birth as one minute after birth. All commentators to this post seem to think that killing a human being before birth is morally acceptable, especially if far enough before birth. What is the basis for your judgment? Would you allow a mother to kill her two-year-old because the child was having an adverse effect on her mental health? Tran and Northam are inching toward answering yes to this last question, but are reluctant to do so for political reasons.

  9. For what it’s worth, MD Gov. Hogan does not do that WTOP Ask the Gov radio program. It has sort of become mostly the Virginia Gov monthly program. Next airing ??? date would be interesting to be a fly on the wall of the new “glass enclosed” news center.

    Too bad I was the self-appointed reporter to BR for that show.

  10. For me, The G and Fred Costello have identified the central dilemmas. In other words we should accept that whether it is a preventable death or a facilitated death, it’s a death.

    Fetal viability is going to be less and less a satisfactory threshold as in vitro fertilization would indicate that most fetuses are viable when the conception is established.

    Are there deaths which are acceptable? Larry’s implied example of a couple faced with a child which may never talk or even move by itself is unfortunately a phenomenon which is at most two or three hops (in intelligence parlance) from most of us. Should they have the option to walk away from a lifetime indentured to something like a vegetable?

    On the surface it would seem that a pure interpretation of Judao-Christian (and probably other religions) morality would be that all life of any kind is sacred and no one has the right to facilitate or directly end a life. But is that a correct interpretation? What if the preservation of one life essentially destroys or dramatically compromises a number of other lives? Almost everyone agrees that killing in self-defense is acceptable.

    If we don’t take the easy road, then we are faced with who gets to decide and what kinds of constraints do we place on the deciders, if any.

    But we should not attempt to anesthetize the pain and angst of these questions with the kabuki dances of logic as to when it is taking a life and when it is not. In my opinion, we are talking about taking lives.

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