Ralph Northam’s Transformation of Virginia

Virgnia Governor Ralph Northam speaks to reporters after attending a rally outside the Virginia State Capitol Building in Richmond, VA, July 9, 2019. (Michael A. McCoy/Reuters)

Last weekend, Virginia’s governor enshrined progressive understandings of abortion and gender identity into state law.

Like many people of faith, Virginia governor Ralph Northam spent last weekend bearing witness to his convictions. On Good Friday, he signed the Reproductive Health Protection Act (RHPA) into law, which, among other things, waived the 24-hour waiting period, pro-adoption counseling, and mandatory ultrasound that had been previously required for women seeking abortions. On Holy Saturday, Northam signed the Virginia Values Act, a bill recognizing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under Virginia’s anti-discrimination law. As has happened in other states with similar laws, the bill imperils the conscience rights of people of faith, as well as those who remain unconvinced that a man can become a woman just by saying so. On Easter Sunday, Northam rested from all the work that he had done.

After signing the RHPA into law, Northam’s office released a statement boasting that “no more will legislators in Richmond — most of whom are men — be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies.” It was a strange thing for Northam to brag about, considering that he would sign a law not 24 hours later requiring businesses to recognize that men who identify as women are, for all legal purposes, women. If businesses in the Commonwealth of Virginia are required under threat of civil sanction to affirm that men, too, can get pregnant, the least that the governor could do is apologize for his insinuation to the contrary.

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“The Reproductive Health Protection Act will make women and families safer,” Northam continued, “and I’m proud to sign it into law.” While I do not doubt that the same Ralph Northam who defended infanticide is “proud” of his efforts to make it easier for women to kill their unborn children, his statement does not address whether and how the RHPA will make “families safer,” or what “safety” means in the context of a procedure that is necessarily unsafe for at least one of the two parties involved. It is also left to our imaginations to adduce how the bill’s allowance of non-physicians to perform abortions will make the procedure “safer” for the women involved.

The Virginia chapter of NARAL was one of the loudest supporters of RHPA, calling the bill a necessary corrective to “politically-motivated restrictions on access to abortion.” Those restrictions, in NARAL’s estimation, served only “to shame patients and limit their access to safe, legal abortion care.” It is true that the purpose of making a woman wait 24 hours before snuffing out the life in her womb is not explicitly “medical,” save in the sense that preventing the killing of an unborn child is itself a “medical” end. As Virginia delegate Kathy Byron said, the point of requiring ultrasounds, counseling, and a 24-hour waiting period was to provide women with sufficient time and information before they make “maybe one of the most important decisions that they [will] ever make.”

NARAL clearly disagrees that the decision is “important,” or at least sufficiently grave as to require a period of reflection. The organization lauded the RHPA as a rebuke to the Commonwealth’s “anti-abortion laws and regulations designed to stigmatize abortion.” A civilized society should want to “stigmatize” abortion, just as it should want to stigmatize all immoral and antisocial behavior — either by statute or by social pressure. Even the most ardent pro-choicers used to call abortion a “tragic choice” or insist upon the practice’s being “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. As M. D. Aeschliman has observed, the “capacity rightly to feel embarrassment, shame, and guilt for bad conduct, to wish to amend that conduct and to behave so as not to suffer such internal and external reproach” is “the essence of being a person and not a gorilla.” NARAL apparently prefers the latter approach.

The following day, Northam signed the Virginia Values Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” — defined as “the gender-related identity, appearance, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.” Bakers will now be required to bake “transition cakes” or else face a lawsuit. High-school-aged girls will have to compete against gender-confused males in sports in the name of “inclusion,” and vie for precious few scholarships with their testosterone-laden competitors. The very notion that there is some amorphous concept of “gender” that exists outside the biological reality of sex — a theory that, until now, was the province of academics and the editorial board of Refinery29 — now has the weight of law.

Much to Ralph Northam’s delight.

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