Virginia Republicans voiced outrage Thursday to a failed proposal by Democrats that would have expanded abortion rights — even moments before birth — as one GOP legislator shed tears and another called the proposal “extremely disturbing.”
“I didn’t quite arrive on time, but I lived. Had this legislation been in place, who knows how things could have turned out,” said Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk.
Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, sponsored HB 2491, which would have eliminated certain requirements before undergoing an abortion, such as approval from three physicians and an ultrasound. At Monday’s subcommittee hearing on the bill, a Republican lawmaker asked Tran whether the bill would allow for an abortion to occur when a woman is in labor and about to give birth; Tran said yes. The subcommittee voted 5-3 to table the measure.
On Thursday, Tran corrected herself. “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.’”
Republicans seized on Tran’s initial comments — and Gov. Ralph Northam’s support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion — as evidence that the Democrats would allow infanticide.
In an unorthodox move on Monday, House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, stepped down from the House chamber dais to speak in opposition to Tran’s legislation. Cox, who has advocated anti-abortion legislation since 1990, said 61,012,997 abortions have been performed since 1973.
“It was extremely disturbing that essentially you have legislation that does not protect the unborn at all, that you can have an abortion up to the point of birth. And I guess what truly disturbed me was that the other side almost seems to be celebrating that position,” Cox said.
Originally, 23 Democrats co-sponsored Tran’s bill, but some, including Del. Dawn Adams of Richmond, said they would pull their support. The controversy has made national headlines and drawn widespread condemnation from Republicans. President Donald Trump criticized Northam for speaking in favor of Tran’s bill.
Northam and Democratic legislators held a press conference of their own Thursday to respond to the Republicans and to reiterate support for abortion rights. “We believe legislators, most of whom are men, should not be making decisions about women’s choices for their reproductive health,” Northam said. “We can agree to disagree on this topic, but we can be civil about it.”
Northam said some Republicans were attempting to use the issue to score political points.
Attorney General Mark Herring, who also spoke at the press conference, called Republican efforts to discredit Democrats “desperate” and “ugly.”
“Their political games have exposed a member of the House of Delegates to violent personal threats,” Herring said. “And now, Kirk Cox has taken his caucus completely off the deep end accusing Gov. Northam of supporting infanticide.”
The House minority leader, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, said Virginia women wouldn’t be intimidated by House Republicans’ scare tactics.
“House Republicans have used their majority to try to shame women — to try to bully and dictate to women what we can and cannot do with our bodies,” Filler-Corn said. “Virginia women are watching, and Virginia women are paying attention.”
Abortion rights groups such as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and Progress Virginia continue to support Tran. Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said that Tran was a champion for women and that Republican legislators are taking her remarks out of context.
“We trust women to make decisions about their health care needs. Shame on politicians like Todd Gilbert and Kirk Cox for trying to distract us from the real issue here: getting politics out of the doctor’s office,” Scholl said.
Del. Gilbert, a Republican from Shenandoah County, is the House majority leader. At the Republicans’ press conference, he equated abortion to murder. Gilbert said Democrats would allow late-term abortions out of concern not just for a woman’s physical health but also for her mental health.
“It has nothing to do with saving a woman’s life. A mental health concern could include anything that you can name that has an identifiable mental health issue — depression, anxiety, feelings that one gets when one is about to have to care for a child,” Gilbert said.
Brewer co-chairs the Foster Care Caucus and is an outspoken advocate for improving Virginia’s adoption and foster care systems. She received a tissue and support from Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, while tearing up at the news conference. Brewer said her birth-mother could have chosen to abort her but instead saved her life and fulfilled the life of her adoptive parents.
“61,012,997. How many of those were delegates that never had a chance to serve? How many of those were precious children who would’ve made an adoptive parent like mine — a first-time mom or dad?” Brewer said.