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PolitiFact Virginia: Vandergriff Abortion Claim Rated "False"

GayDonna Vandergriff

Speaker: GayDonna Vandergriff

Statement: Schuyler VanValkenburg co-sponsored a bill that would have “allowed abortion until the moment of birth.”

Date: Oct. 22

Setting: Mailer 


Republican GayDonna Vandergriff has turned to abortion in her effort to portray Democrat Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg as “too extreme” for the 72nd House District in western Henrico County.

Vandergriff recently sent voters a mailer with a colored picture of a mother nuzzling a newborn, and a black and white shot of VanValkenburg in the background. “Did her life have value 10 minutes before she was born?” the capitalized print asks. “Socialist Democrat Schuyler VanValkenburg says no.”

The flip side says “Schuyler VanValkenburg was the co-sponsor of the Democratic bill that would have allowed abortion until the moment of birth.” We fact checked whether the bill would have allowed such abortions in the state.

Vandergriff’s mailer erroneously cites as its source a bill that made no mention of abortion. It would have required health insurers to cover pasteurized, donated human breast milk, which in rare instances is needed for infants. The measure never came up for a vote and died.

Matt Williams, a spokesman for Vandergriff’s campaign, said the correct source is an unsuccessful bill that would have eased the state abortion restrictions. It was introduced in January 2019 by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax. VanValkenburg was among 21 Democratic co-sponsors.

The debate focused on the bill’s provisions for rare third-trimester abortions, which are allowed if three physicians certify that a continued pregnancy would "likely" kill a woman or "substantially and irremediably" harm her mental or physical health.

The legislation would have lowered the threshold of certifying physicians to one. That doctor would have to attest that the pregnancy would damage a woman’s health. The "substantial and irremediable" test would have been repealed.

Tran, under tough questioning by Republicans during a Jan. 28 hearing, acknowledged her legislation would allow an abortion when a mother is dilating. Many Republicans claim the bill shows that Democrats support “abortion to the time of birth.” The bill died on a partisan 5-3 vote in a House subcommittee VanValkenburg doesn’t sit on.

Third trimester abortions are extremely rare; the state Department of Health has recorded two this century. But they have been legal in Virginia, under very limited circumstances, for years. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 1973 Roe v Wade decision that states may prohibit an abortion after fetal viability if there are exceptions to protect the life or mental or physical health of the mother. 

This undercuts Vandergriff’s claim that the bill would have “allowed abortion until the moment of birth.” That possibility already existed. Virginia law allows third-trimester abortions if three doctors certify that “the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” Tran’s bill would have eased those requirements.

Vandergriff is not the only candidate misstating the bill. During the course of writing this fact-check, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, began making similar charges against  her opponent, Del. Debra Rodman. Rodman, a Democrat, also co-sponsored Tran’s bill and stood beside Tran while she was testified in the January hearing.

Dunnavant has sent a mailer saying Rodman “proposed legalizing abortion in the ninth month.” Dunnavant is also running a TV ad saying, “Debra Rodman’s bill would allow late-term abortions for any reason up to the moment of birth.”

 

Our ruling

Vandergriff says VanValkenburg co-sponsored a bill that would have “allowed abortion until the moment of birth.” 

She’s referring to a bill introduced in January 2019. Vandergriff’s claim is misleading because third-trimester abortions were already protected by federal law and allowed in Virginia in extremely rare conditions when three doctors certify that pregnancy will "likely" kill the mother or “substantially and irremediably” damage her mental or physical health.

The bill - which VanValkenburg did co-sponsor - would not have created an unconditioned right to a third-trimester abortion in Virginia, as Vandergriff suggests. It would have eased requirements for getting one by allowing one doctor to certify the abortion is necessary to protect the mother’s life or health.

We rate Vandergriff’s statement False.
 

Sources

GayDonna Vandergriff, campaign mailer, Oct. 22, 2019.

Interview with Matt Williams, Vandergriff campaign spokesman, Oct. 28, 2019.

Legislative Information Services, HB2049 and HB2491, 2019 session.

Guttmacher Institute, “ State bans on abortion throughout pregnancy,” Oct. 1, 2019.

Siobhan Dunnavant, TV ad, Oct. 23, 2019.

Dunnavant, campaign mailer, Oct. 23, 2019.

 

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