RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout said the words “horrific, outrageous, vicious” were “in my heart” when he heard about a measure proposed in the Virginia Legislature to expand “the brutal practice of abortion.”
“We should not be legislating in favor of abortion, let alone third-trimester abortions at all,” he said. “All our actions and decisions should be life-giving.”
Bishop Knestout, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington and the Virginia Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops on public policy matters, issued statements Jan. 31 about an abortion measure introduced by Del. Kathy Tran of Fairfax, which was tabled by a subcommittee of the House of Delegates in a 5-3 vote Jan. 28.
Remarks in support of the bill made by Tran, a Democrat, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, also a Democrat and a former pediatric neurosurgeon, were met with a storm of protest by pro-life leaders. Hundreds of people attended a “Resist Infanticide Rally” Feb. 2 at South County High School in Lorton, Va.
At a hearing on the bill, Tran confirmed the bill would have allowed for an abortion to be performed at delivery. Northam discussed the bill in a radio interview Jan. 27, and was criticized for saying: “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.”
Rally participants Feb. 2 said the callous statements about late-term abortion had shocked them and compelled them to protest though the bill that sparked the controversy failed and the delegate who sponsored the bill and was hosting a town hall meeting in Lorton canceled her event the evening before.
“We are mortified, terrified, horrified, all of the ‘-fieds’ you can think of that Virginia is going to go the same way as New York,” said Erin Caines, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, who came to the rally with her husband and five children, ages 1 to 13.
“We want to make sure that people know Virginians are not for (that bill). Virginians are for life and we don’t want extreme abortion laws passed through our state,” she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Arlington Diocese.
“This legislation shocks the conscience and is made more egregious by the governor of Virginia suggesting the permissibility of denying care to infants born alive during the abortion,” stated Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“This senseless disrespect for new human life is horrifying. We join the bishops of Virginia in urging all people of good will to stand up to protect unborn and born infants from legislation that would permit their gruesome deaths,” he stated.
The abortion measure in Virginia followed the signing into law of an expansion of abortion in New York state, fully backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, and met with an outcry by the state’s Catholic bishops and calls by some that Cuomo be excommunicated.
In his statement, Bishop Burbidge wrote the Virginia bill “rightly failed,” but added, “I am, along with so many people of good will, distraught that this bill was introduced in the first place. It could have paved the way for babies to suffer a violent and gruesome death moments before birth and could have been harmful to women.”
He added, “My hope is that this bill failed because the elected officials of the state Legislature recognized that it was an evil and impermissible offense to human life and our collective decency.”
Tran’s bill would have expanded the state’s abortion law by loosening restrictions on third-trimester abortions that are currently allowed in order to take into account the risk of the pregnancy to the mother’s “physical or mental safety.” Tran wanted to remove existing language that says third-trimester abortions are allowed only if the risk to the mother’s life is “substantial and irremediable.”
It also would have required only one doctor to sign off before the procedure is performed; now three must sign off. Also under Tran’s bill second-trimester abortions could take place outside state-licensed hospitals.
At the rally Feb. 2, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List gave an impassioned message to politicians.
“Any legislator in this nation (who) is considering allowing abortion up until birth, and infanticide itself, here’s one thing we want you to know: If you seek to build women’s rights upon the broken bodies of America’s children, you will fail,” she said. “You are failing, and we will defeat you.”