Before “Game of Thrones”-style infighting rocked Virginia Democrats, before the Michael Jackson moonwalk press conference, before a KKK and blackface photo surfaced from his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, Gov. Ralph Northam made some candid remarks about abortion on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” radio show.
The now-embattled governor’s words raised many religious, scientific and philosophical questions, and he all but guaranteed that what his critics are calling “fourth-trimester abortion” will remain a hot-button issue in American public life.
A proposed Virginia bill on late-term abortions, he said, would allow termination in cases where an unborn child is “not viable” outside the womb.
“In this particular example, if a mother’s in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen,” said Northam, a former pediatric neurologist. “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 is “greatly misinformed about what this bill would do. ... It is infanticide,” Democrats for Life leader Kristen Day told EWTN News.
Concerning bills of this kind in Virginia (tabled on a 5-3 vote in committee) and New York, she added: “I’m hearing from more people who say that they can’t vote for Democrats if they continue to push this. ... This abortion extremism is continuing to push Democrats out of the party.” She predicted large numbers of Democrats at Virginia’s March for Life on April 3, sending this message: “We want to be a state that protects women, supports women and provides support for women to carry their pregnancies to term. That’s what we stand for as Democrats.”
To no one’s surprise, President Donald Trump used Twitter to jump into this controversy, attacking Northam for making the “most horrible statement on ‘super’ late term abortion. Unforgivable!”
However, the boldest Republican response came from Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a leader among religious conservatives who have consistently clashed with Trump – before and after the 2016 election.
Early this week, Sasse sought unanimous consent in the Senate to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, creating a national infanticide ban. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the only Democrat to take the floor during discussions of the motion, blocked this Sasse maneuver.
“This isn’t about clumps of cells. This is fourth-trimester abortion,” Sasse said. “Gov. Northam is a disgraced coward, and he has such an abysmal view of human dignity that he couldn’t bring himself to say this basic truth: It’s wrong to let little babies who’ve been born die.
“This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. We’re way beyond that. Everyone in the Senate ought to be able to say unequivocally that the little baby deserves life, that she has rights, and that killing her is wrong.”
There was no way to escape the religious overtones in these debates, as noted in statements by Catholic Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond.
Burbidge called Northam’s remarks “staggering,” and evidence of a “new level of deep-rooted animus against the inherent goodness of every child,” as well as a sign of “how far abortion advocates are willing to go in taking the life of a precious child.”
Knestout added: “We should not be legislating in favor of abortion, let alone third-trimester abortions. ... All our actions and decisions should be life-giving.”
But it was a Southern Baptist Convention leader who explicitly attempted to link the two issues at the heart of this latest meltdown in America’s public square – race and abortion. In both cases, Americans are tempted to bow to a “counter-Christ idolatry that sees human dignity and lives worth living defined by power. And that power is always defined by those who have power,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“When we encounter this spirit, we should call it what it is,” added Moore, who once served on the staff of a pro-life Mississippi Democrat in the U.S. Congress. “We shouldn’t look around to see if the crowd around us will give us permission to serve the vulnerable neighbor before us, whether that neighbor is unborn, elderly, poor, racially oppressed, sexually assaulted, an immigrant, a refugee.”
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Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at The King’s College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.