Va. Abortion-at-Birth Bill Comes Amid Number of State-Level Measures

A controversial Virginia bill that would permit abortion during labor will not be moving out of subcommittee.

(photo: Shutterstock)

RICHMOND, Va. — A controversial Virginia bill that would permit abortion during labor will not be moving out of the subcommittee, as the latest attempt to widely expand abortion access falls short.

H.B. 2491, was introduced by state Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, and would have removed all of Virginia’s existing pro-life safeguards, including ultrasound requirements and a 24-hour waiting period. The bill would have allowed for an abortion to take place throughout pregnancy in order to preserve the health of the mother.

When questioned by Republican Virginia House MajorityLeader Todd Gilbert in a committee hearing, Tran admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being performed while a woman was in active labor.

A video of the exchange was shared on social media, and Tran deleted her Twitter account after widespread outrage.

Lawyers have said that the phrase “health and well-being of the mother” is purposefully vague and includes criteria such as age and emotional state, in addition to the mother’s physical health. It does not require a doctor to consider alternative treatments besides abortion.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, refused to condemn H.B. 2491 on a radio show Wednesday morning and defended some of its central tenets.

Speaking on WTOP, Northam said that he believed the decision to terminate a late-term pregnancy should be left up to a doctor and “mothers and fathers that are involved.”

“When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of, obviously, the mother, with the consent of the physicians — 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 nonviable,” said Northam.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said that if it were decided to terminate a pregnancy while a mother was in labor, the infant would be delivered and then “kept comfortable.” Medical attention would be given to the infant “if that’s what the mother and the family desired,” he said, and “a discussion would ensue” between the woman and her doctor.

Northam said that he thought reaction to the bill was “really blown out of proportion.” He also said that he was in favor of maintaining a state law that requires three physicians approve of a third-trimester abortion. Tran’s bill would have stripped this requirement.

A statement from Northam’s representative on Wednesday accused Republicans of “trying to play politics with women’s health” and said that the governor was referring to cases of fetal abnormality or a nonviable pregnancy.

“The governor’s comments were limited to the actions physicians would take in the event that a woman in those circumstances went into labor,” said the statement. The statement did not clarify if “fetal abnormality” included entire classes of people, including those with Down syndrome.

A 2013 Guttmacher study found that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment” and instead were doing so because they had not realized they were pregnant or had previous trouble securing money or insurance coverage to pay for the abortion.

The debate over the proposal in Virginia comes amid a number of state-level measures aimed at bolstering abortion access.

Last week, New York passed an expansive new law removing previous limits and standards on abortions in the state.

The Supreme Court is also expected to make a statement regarding abortion law in coming days. A Louisiana law set to go into effect on Monday would require that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

If the law were to go into effect, the state would have only a single legal abortionist. A group of physicians represented by the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights have requested a stay from the court that would block the law coming into effect. Five justices are needed to grant an emergency stay.

A similar law in Texas was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016. Since that decision, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have replaced Justices Anthony Kennedy and the late Antonin Scalia.

Kennedy had been seen as a “swing vote” on the issue at the court. He voted in favor of overturning the Texas law in 2016.

Gorsuch has characterized abortion as the “death of a person.” Kavanaugh has not made public statements on the issue o abortion, and his judicial record at the lower court level did not treat the issue extensively.