A video clip of a first-term Virginia lawmaker saying she would allow abortions up until the moment of birth went viral in conservative media circles Tuesday night, with Republicans saying it amounted to "barbaric infanticide" and Democrats accusing Republicans of an election-year stunt.
The clip shared on social media by the House of Delegates GOP caucus Twitter account shows Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, presenting a bill on Monday that would have lifted a variety of state-level abortion restrictions.
Heartbreaking... This isn't in New York, this isn't in California, this happened just this week right here in Virginia. @VAHouseDems proposed legislation to provide abortions up to just seconds before that precious child takes their first breath. Watch for yourself. pic.twitter.com/AxgPVyI6kU— VA House GOP (@vahousegop) January 29, 2019
Tran’s legislation would have loosened rules on the legality of third-term abortion, which is currently only allowed if three doctors conclude a woman’s life or health is at a severe risk. Tran’s bill would have significantly lowered those standards, allowing third-trimester abortion on the advice of one doctor who could allow an abortion by certifying a pregnancy would “impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
With a camera close by, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, the subcommittee chairman, questioned Tran about that provision, asking the Democrat if her legislation would let a woman ask for a late-term abortion for mental health reasons.
“Where it's obvious that a woman is about to give birth ... she has physical signs that she is about to give birth would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified? If she's dilating?,” Gilbert asked.
Tran responded: “Mr. Chairman, that would be a decision that the doctor, the physician, and the woman would make at that point.”
“I understand that,” Gilbert said. “I'm asking if your bill allows that."
Tran said: “My bill would allow that, yes."
In a pivotal election year with control of the House at stake, Republicans set to work spreading the video, characterizing it as a ghoulish display of the types of abortion policies that could become law in Virginia without GOP majorities to block them.
“@VAHouseDems proposed legislation to provide abortions up to just seconds before that precious child takes their first breath. Watch for yourself,” read the post from the House Republicans’ Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.
As of Wednesday morning, the video had been viewed 1.59 million times and had been shared by numerous conservative media outlets and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who said the video “literally makes me sick to my stomach.”
Tran took down her own Twitter account after the criticism began, and other Democratic lawmakers whose names are attached to the bill have been caught up in the backlash.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, Tran said lawmakers should "trust women to make their own healthcare decisions."
"These decisions are personal and private, and they are made in consultation with doctors who are using their best medical judgement," Tran said. "I regret that these partisan games have taken the focus away from where it should be: on the Virginian women who have asked for this bill to get politicians out of their private medical decisions."
The Republican Party of Virginia called on other Democrats to "take a stand against barbaric infanticide in Virginia."
Though the comments from an inexperienced lawmaker could reappear later this year as Republicans try to hold their slight majority, Tran is not the first, nor the only Democratic lawmaker to advocate for looser rules on late-term abortions.
"It was an orchestrated attack," said Kathryn Gilley, a spokeswoman for the House Democratic Caucus. By posting video of the exchane, Gilley said Republican leaders had invited a "firestorm of attacks" against Tran over "something she was not advocating for."
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, who has served in the General Assembly since 2006, carried a similar bill this year.
When she presented her bill in a Senate committee earlier this month, McClellan argued that it’s misguided to believe that women would seek late-term abortions for frivolous reasons.
“You don't get to the third trimester and seek an abortion lightly. You don't get to the third trimester and wake up and say: 'I've changed my mind,’ ” McClellan said. “You seek an abortion because something has gone horribly wrong."
The Senate committee voted McClellan's bill down without extensive questioning.