Like most of my fellow conservatives, my stomach turned when I heard Virginia Governor Ralph Northam seemingly express support for infanticide today during a radio interview in such clear, calm, measured tones.  I am not often one who publicly responds when I’m upset about something that is politically charged.  I always talk things like this through with my wife, my mentor, and a great liberal friend whom I trust.  Many times, articles that fly from my fingers initially often aren’t finished or published because wisdom often tempers my initial reaction.

So I followed my usual round of talk-through-the-issue, and I did some additional research so I can better understand the context and the meaning behind Northam’s words.  And I do think that it would be helpful to wade into the waters of this particular issue.

What Happened?

In his interview on January 30th, Gov. Northam was asked about the controversial HB 2491 by Virginia House Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Springfield), which would eliminate several requirements for abortions, including ultrasounds and a multiple physician sign-off for third trimester abortions.  In a committee meeting (the longest clip of which that I could find is here) where Del. Tran presented her bill and, responding to questions, certified that her bill would allow women to have an abortion up until the moment before birth.  

This would be a substantial change in Virginia, and it prompted a line of questioning in Gov. Northam’s WTOP interview.  I have listened to the exchange several times and read the transcript (at the bottom of this CNS News article).  Here are his main points in the relevant portion of the interview.  

  1. Northam is a pediatric neurologist by trade, so he speaks from authority.  
  2. Third trimester abortions are done with the consent of the mother and multiple physicians (as of now).
  3. These abortions only take place when it comes to a non-viable fetus or fetuses with “severe deformities”.
  4. In these cases, the baby would be delivered, resuscitated if possible (and if the family decided to), made “comfortable”, and then further options would be discussed.  
  5. These situations are tough and emotional and (male) legislators should not interfere, giving physicians and the family the freedom to do what they believe is necessary and/or right.

The ominous and blood-curdling part of #4 is the implication that a living, human baby could be a candidate for a “post-birth abortion”… otherwise known as “murder.”  This was my, and many others’, initial reaction.

However, upon further reflection, I don’t think he was actually advocating that particular plan of action.  While it was implied by the context of the discussion that he had abortion in mind, I have a feeling he was probably referring to a family’s decision regarding whether they should fight for the baby’s life as hard as they can or whether they should let the baby die a comfortable, natural death because of his/her medical condition (similar to removing a breathing tube of a loved one in a vegetative state).  I could not even imagine what it would be like to face that situation. I mean, could you imagine what you would do if your baby had been born without a brain? Or limbs?

So No Infanticide… But…

Now that I’ve looked at Northam’s comments and listened to his words, I keep coming back to #3 and #5 above.  I keep getting stuck on them.

Governor Northam contends that aborting a fetus all the way up to the moment before birth is acceptable as long as (a) it has a severe deformity, (b) it is non-viable, or (c) it is determined by the physician(s) and family that an abortion ought to take place.  I’m sure there are more criteria he might use, but these are the ones he mentioned.

I’m not a doctor, so feel free to comment and help me sort through this tough topic (seriously!! please!! I love learning and discussion :-)), but do any of these things negate the intrinsic value of a human life? After all, there are thousands of stories online of miracle babies who, though they have acute deformities and debilitating syndromes, thrive and find joy in their difficult, sometimes short lives.  Take for instance the stories of any of the kids on the “Day in the Life” series on YouTube produced by the channel Special Books by Special Kids.  Or the short, beautiful, hard life of Thomas Lauxs who knew only pain and love.  Or the kids of David Wood (a YouTuber I follow) who have myotubular myopathy.  Consider these three scenarios:

  1. If a human is deformed, does that mean we can kill him in the name of preventing his suffering?
  2. Do we have a choice, option, or right to preemptively kill a person when we discover he has an awful disease and only has days or hours to live?
  3. Is it morally acceptable for a family, with concurrence from three physicians, to, in the name of dignity, grace, and comfort, euthanize grandpa if he is likely to put everyone in the family through a terrible ordeal as he ages?

If you said “yes” to any of these, then you do not have the same belief in the intrinsic value of human life that I do.  All of these, if you follow the logic, lead to the determination that we can kill anyone we want in the name of compassion or convenience.  Our worldviews differ drastically and we should have a different kind of conversation where we explore our various presuppositions.

If your answers to these questions were “no,” my next question is this: Do age, location, or health impact a person’s intrinsic worth? If it’s wrong for these, why is it not wrong for a fetus?

Now imagine doing any of these things without an individual’s consent.  This, after all, is the case for the fetus.

Isn’t It Different With a Fetus, Though?

But you might say that it’s different with a fetus; it’s not a “person” yet.  For instance, until it is 14 weeks (as Ricki Lewis Ph.D. posits in this blog), it’s just a collection of cells.  Some would say that the fetus isn’t a person at all until the fetus is born and takes his/her first breath.  Some say it’s at conception. It’s all about when the fetus’ “life” begins. And once life begins, we have almost universal agreement that “termination” of that human would be “wrong.”  Many pro-choice advocates would be appalled to know that the Gosnells of the world do in fact exist.  Many pro-choice advocates would be appalled to know abortion really is used as birth control by some women and their jerk-wad (sorry) boyfriends who insist.  They know life begins at some point, but it’s hard to know when, so why not just let it be a “personal decision?”

As an aside, there really are some depraved individuals out there, man.  One lady I was debating last year on this very topic on the Atheists vs. Christians Facebook ‘discussion’ group (ugh…), told me that an embryo in a woman’s body was like a parasite living off its host, and any mother could decide if she wanted to get rid of it or not, just like a mass of cancerous cells.  Then she told me that that fetus had “no right” to take her as its host. Seriously? Like it had a choice?… ugh… I ran out of patience quickly thereafter and left the group. But I digress…

For me, I’d argue those little packets of cells called human embryos have a unique human DNA sequence, so in no way is it just the woman’s body that she’s making a choice about.  I have at least 37 trillion cells in my body with unique DNA.  I was still a person when I had 1 billion cells. I was still a person when I had 1 million cells with unique DNA.  And at 100,000 cells. And at 1,000 cells. And even at 2. So there are two distinct people involved in every abortion, not just the mother.

And if that fetus is a unique human person, the Biblical belief is that he or she is a person with a soul.  (Psalms 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5, etc.) And people with souls are intrinsically valuable to God even if they’re not valuable to a single other human on Earth.  This means that people with souls are worth protecting from death, regardless of their location (hospice bed, classroom, playground, nursery), especially at their most vulnerable state… which just happens to be in the womb.  

I understand not everyone believes as I do.  However, if folks understand that people like me aren’t trying to “control women’s bodies” with abortion laws but instead to “save tiny lives,” I think there’d be a lot less vitriol around this issue.  

So no, Governor Northam doesn’t support murdering babies after they are born, as far as I can tell.  

But if all it takes is a family/doctor vote to decide whether a tiny person lives or dies because of the possibility of suffering, eventual death, or inconvenience… without that person’s consent?

… well, maybe he and I should sit down, have some coffee… and talk.  

Call me, Ralph.  I emailed you.