Monday, March 4, 2024

Before the photos: The abortion discussion Northam opened up is far from over

Gov. Ralph Northam

Gov. Ralph Northam was steeped in controversy before racist yearbook photos surfaced Friday.

Controversial photos from Northam’s 1984 yearbook came out after the governor opened up Jan. 31 about loosening restriction on late-term abortions.

Northam has had support from large pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood, but those groups are now stepping back after the recent controversy surrounding the democrat.

In a news release Tuesday, Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen retracted the organization’s support for the politician based on the racist photos surrounding him.

“He must step down as governor,” she said. “The people of Virginia need to be able to trust that their leaders will fight for them, and support policies that protect their health, safety and value their communities. Gov. Northam’s actions have put that in doubt.”

The Hampton Roads Planned Parenthood chapter was not immediately available for comment.

But Northam has had to clarify the comments that originally started this political and media firestorm.

Northam spoke in approval for House Bill 2491 which was discussed by Virginia Del. Kathy Tran on Jan. 28. The bill would create looser restrictions on abortions in Virginia.

Some of those restrictions include decreasing the number physicians, from three to one primary physician, required to certify the continuing pregnancy would cause death or irreparable damage to the mother, according to Virginia Legislative Information System.

Many pro-life groups were up in arms with Northam’s position, including religious groups from Hampton Roads and Eastern Virginia.

“On behalf of the bishops, the Virginia Catholic Conference testified against the legislation and our advocacy helped defeat it,” said Jeff Caruso executive director for the Virginia Catholic Conference. “As extreme threats to life such as this legislation continue to surface in the future, we will continue to speak out forcefully and mobilize against it with maximum determination.”

Deborah Cox, director of communications for the Diocese of Richmond, said both the local and national Catholic conferences have issued statements on the matter.

“We should not be legislating in favor of abortion, let alone third trimester abortions at all. All our actions and decisions should be life-giving,” said Bishop Barry Knestout of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, which covers Hampton Roads Catholic parishes.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, clarified on a radio show in Washington on Thursday that this would only be an option for mothers in dire situations.

“When we talk about third trimester abortions,” he said. “These are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physician…it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s non-viable.”

Still, the damage to Northam had already been done when the photos of his yearbook featuring two people wearing black face and Ku Klux Klan outfit were released by a former classmate who was upset by Northam’s abortion stance.

The image shows Gov. Ralph Northam's page in his 1984 EVMS school yearbook. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him. (Courtesy of Republican Party of Virginia)
The image shows Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 EVMS school yearbook. It’s unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him.
(Courtesy of Republican Party of Virginia)

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said the bill has been proposed three separate times but because of the political battle surrounding it, the bill may now have a harder time of ever seeing the light of day.

“This is a desperate political attack to try and maintain control over the assembly at this point,” she said. “We are moving backward not forward.”

RELATED STORY: Racist pics: EVMS will look into past years books, it’s present culture, and the probe will be transparent

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who will replace Northam should the governor resign, has not released a statement on the specific bill but in the past, he has expressed support for Planned Parenthood.

In 2016, Fairfax was elected as the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington Action Fund Board vice chairman, according to his official Twitter account.

“State lawmakers have stepped up to protect reproductive freedom,” Keene said. “The others are doubling down right now but so are we.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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