Fact check: Virginia governor’s 2019 comments about abortion bill are missing context

A meme shared by over 70,766 on Facebook misrepresents comments made by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in 2019 when he was asked about a bill that, among other things, aimed to ease restrictions for third trimester abortions in the state. The meme falsely suggests that Northam is in favor of legalizing infanticide by leaving out some key contextual references in his remarks.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The meme  here  , which features the photograph of a newborn child, reads: “’And when it’s born, we will make the baby comfortable until the mother decides if she wants it to live or die.’ Dems are for full term abortions! God have mercy on their souls when women are legally allowed to kill a child.”  

The meme appears to inaccurately quote the remarks made by Democrat Ralph Northam during an interview with a local radio station  in 2019 when asked about  Bill HB 2491.  

Northam was referring to “third-trimester abortions” that are done in cases “where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non viable” he said. “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,” Northam stated.

This comment was quickly addressed by Republican commentators who, as reported by Vox  here , took his words as “an endorsement of infanticide”.  

At the time, a spokesperson for Northam told Vox the “governor had ‘absolutely not’ been referring to the euthanasia of infants born after a failed abortion” and that he was talking about a “tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor.”

The controversy was also addressed by U.S. President Donald Trump, who mentioned it during his State of Union address in 2019 ( ).   

Other fact-checkers have debunked this misrepresentation of Northam’s comment:   here  ,  here   and  here  . 

HB 2491

In January 2019, Bill HB 2491  here ,  a piece of legislation introduced by Democratic delegate Kathy Tran aimed at easing some of the requirements for abortions in Virginia, fell under public scrutiny.  

The controversy around the bill, ultimately rejected by Virginia legislators, focused on Tran’s proposed changes in the restrictions for third trimester abortions, which are uncommon in the United States. Abortions at or after 21 weeks represent  just 1% of all abortions in the country ( here ,  here ).  

Tran’s bill did not propose to extend the time limit for getting an abortion in Virginia. Under the state’s current law  here  , it is legal to terminate a pregnancy after the second trimester when its continuation is “likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”  

Virginia law also states the operation needs to be done in a hospital, that three physicians have to certify the operation and that “measures for life support for the product of such abortion or miscarriage must be available and utilized if there is any clear evidence of viability.”

As reported by the Washington Post here , Tran’s bill “would have required only one doctor. It would also have removed language requiring that the danger to the mother be “substantial and irremediable.”  

Tran drew criticism after a comment she made during a committee hearing, when questioned about the bill by Republican delegate Todd Gilbert ( here ).

Gilbert, posing a hypothetical and rare scenario, asked whether a woman that “is about to give birth” and “dilating” could request an abortion and be certified by a physician “if he indicated it would impair the mental health of a woman.” After hesitation, Tran responded her bill “would allow that.”

Tran later corrected herself and told the Washington Post she had misspoken: “I should have said: ‘Clearly, no, because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth.’ ” ( here


Days after the committee hearing, Governor Northam was interviewed on local radio station WTOP  here . The quote used in this claim most likely stems from a statement Northam made  when asked about Tran’s previous comments on the bill. The exchange went as follows:  

Julie Carey: … “[Tran] was pressed by a Republican delegate about whether her bill would permit an abortion even as a woman is essentially dilating, ready to give birth, and she answered that it would permit an abortion at that stage of labor. Do you support her measure and explain her answer?”

Northam: “You know, I wasn’t there, Julie, and I certainly can’t speak for Delegate Tran, but I would tell you: one, the first thing I would say is this is why decisions such as this should be made by providers, physicians, and the mothers and fathers that are involved. There are, you know, 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 non-viable. So in this particular example, 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. So I think this was really blown out of proportion.”

As reported by Vox, Northam’s stance on the bill was not clear. “The interview was confusing in other ways beyond his comments about infants being born,” Vox said.

Northam also said he supported having “at least two providers” involved in the decision of whether to perform a third-trimester abortion, while current law requires three and Tran’s bill would have required only one ( here ).  

While his comments created confusion, the claim that Northam was supporting legalizing the “killing of a child” is misleading.


Partly false. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was not supporting “infanticide.” According to a spokeswoman, he was referring to a “extremely rare case” of a nonviable pregnancy.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here  .