Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, in an interview Thursday with Fox News, ramped up his criticism of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam over comments on a controversial late-term abortion bill -- saying the governor effectively discussed "infanticide" and should resign if he won't back down.
Sasse, a pro-life Republican, said Northam’s comments were “morally repugnant” and argued the Democratic governor should “get the hell out of office” if he doesn’t support protecting the life of a child who survived an abortion.
“The comments the governor of Virginia made were about fourth-term abortions,” Sasse said on Fox News’ “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino.” “That’s not abortion, that’s infanticide.”
Northam’s comments were made during an appearance on a local radio station to discuss The Repeal Act, which seeks to repeal restrictions on third-trimester abortions.
Virginia Democratic Del. Kathy Tran, a sponsor, sparked outrage from conservatives when she was asked at a hearing if a woman about to give birth and dilating could still request an abortion. The bill was tabled in committee this week.
“My bill would allow that, yes,” she said. Existing state law does not put an absolute time limit on abortions and Tran's legislation does not alter that, but it does loosen restrictions on the need to get additional certification from doctors.
Northam, a former pediatric neurologist, had been asked about Tran's comments and said he couldn’t speak for her, but said that third-trimester abortions are done with “the consent of obviously the mother, with consent of the physician, multiple physicians by the way, and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities or there may be a fetus that’s not 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.”
Northam’s comments quickly led to an outpouring of criticism from Republicans and pro-life activists. Sasse questioned why pro-life Democrats have not spoken out in opposition to the comments made by Northam and Tran. Neither of the two pro-life Democrats in the Senate – Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – has made public comments about the controversy.
“The Democratic Party has not come out and condemned this, and they really should be,” he said.
Northam pushed back hard on his critics, tweeting: "I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting."
Northam Communications Director Ofirah Yheskel said GOP critics were "trying to play politics with women's health" -- and sought to clarify her boss’ comments:
"No woman seeks a third trimester abortion except in the case of tragic or difficult circumstances, such as a nonviable pregnancy or in the event of severe fetal abnormalities, and the governor's comments were limited to the actions physicians would take in the event that a woman in those circumstances went into labor. Attempts to extrapolate these comments otherwise is in bad faith and underscores exactly why the governor believes physicians and women, not legislators, should make these difficult and deeply personal medical decisions."
Tran’s legislation would reduce the number of doctors who would have to certify late-term abortions are needed from three to one. It would also delete the requirement that doctors determine that continuing a pregnancy would "substantially and irremediably" impair a woman's health. Instead doctors would only have to certify that the woman's health was impaired.
Supporters said the changes in law would help reduce the bureaucratic burdens women face when dealing with difficult decisions involving late-term abortions, which often involve serious medical complications.
The effort in Virginia follows New York passing a bill last week loosening restrictions on abortion, as New Mexico, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington also pass new laws expanding abortion access or move to strip old laws from the books that limit abortions.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.