Virginia bill reignites contentious US abortion debate

Around two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should be legal (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)
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Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans fumed Thursday about a Virginia bill backed by the state's Democratic governor that would have rolled back restrictions on late-term abortions -- the latest chapter in one of America's most polarizing political battles.

The governor, Ralph Northam -- a pediatric neurologist by training -- has defended the draft proposed by a female Democratic lawmaker, which would allow a third-trimester abortion in cases of physical or mental health risk of any kind to the mother.

Such cases could include "where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that's nonviable," Northam told local WTOP radio station.

But Republicans took particular issue with comments he made when asked if the bill would allow for abortions performed when a woman is already in labor.

"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," he said.

"And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."

Though his spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said his words were taken out of context, and meant only to apply if a woman in dire circumstances went into labor, and the bill failed to advance out of committee, Republicans pounced.

"Democrats are becoming the Party of late term abortion, high taxes, Open Borders and Crime!" Trump tweeted.

Senator Marco Rubio said: "I never thought I would see the day America had government officials who openly support legal infanticide," while his colleague Ted Cruz called the comments "heartbreaking" and "extreme."

Northam did not back down, saying: "I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting."

Yheskel accused Republicans of "trying to play politics with women's health."

The US Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 with its decision in Roe v. Wade -- and 57 percent of Americans are in favor of access to abortion services, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

But the subject is one of the most politically divisive in the United States -- 59 percent of Republicans (and 61 percent of evangelicals) believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while 76 percent of Democrats take the opposite position.

Trump told right-wing website The Daily Caller he thought the "terrible" details of the Virginia bill could swing the abortion debate.

"This is going to lift up the whole pro-life movement like maybe it’s never been lifted up before," Trump said.

"I think this will very much lift up the issue because people have never thought of it in those terms."

While Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land, numerous states have taken measures to limit access to abortions.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has named two justices to the Supreme Court who oppose abortion, leading activists who support abortion rights to fear that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

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