Calling scandals roiling Virginia a ‘distraction,’ hundreds of abortion opponents rally at Capitol

Capitol Police estimate about 800 people attended a rally Thursday to protest legislation that would have loosened restrictions on late term abortions. The legislation was voted down earlier this session. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

As lawmakers scrambled to finalize budget bills and reporters chased the latest revelations surrounding racist yearbook photos and blackface (today’s chapter: Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment), hundreds of abortion opponents rallied on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday, hoping to return the conversation to last week’s outrage over a Democrat’s proposed abortion legislation.

“What we’re seeing right now, with the hoo-ha and hoopla that’s happening in the press, as bad as some of that is, and it is quite bad — it is also a distraction,” said Olivia Gans Turner, the president of the Virginia Society for Human Life and one of the speakers at the event. “And it only hit the fan the day after the governor let the cat out of the bag about how far the abortion extremists in the Democratic caucus were willing to go with these laws.”

Capitol Police estimated about 800 people attended, smaller than last month’s teacher march, but still a significant showing as far as Capitol Square rallies go.

Organizer Diana Shores said the rally came together on short notice as a response to Gov. Ralph Northam’s bungled explanation last week of how a doctor might handle the delivery of a non-viable or severely deformed fetus, which itself followed outrage over remarks made by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, as she presented a bill that would loosen restrictions on late term abortions.

“People were ready to respond to the governor,” Shores said.

Capitol Police estimate about 800 people attended a rally Thursday to protest legislation that would have loosened restrictions on late term abortions. The legislation was voted down earlier this session. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The legislation would have reduced the number of doctors required to sign off on the procedure from three to one. It would also have required the doctor to certify only that continuing the pregnancy would impair the mother’s mental or physical health, repealing the requirement that the risk be “substantial and irremediable.”

Proponents say the restrictions are politically motivated and not medically necessary. Tran’s office argues the words “substantial and irremediable” are not medical terms and thus meaningless in the context of the law. Republicans argue they would open the door to a late term abortion for nearly any reason.

The debate that followed quickly went national, even earning a mention in Trump’s state of the union address. Several lawmakers walked back their support for the law. Northam said said he thought at least two doctors should have to sign-off on a late-term abortion.

Though the rally seemed to barely register given the current political climate, that so many people attended points to the degree to which the comments have energized the pro-life movement and could pose a challenge to Democrats in the November off-year election, in which a party’s ability to turn out an energized base could make or break the election.

“We shouldn’t let this get swept under the rug,” Shores said. “Every legislator should continue to circle back to these bad bills that are not good for the women of Virginia.”