By Andrew Gionfriddo
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Among a sea of strollers and picket signs on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol, hundreds of people demonstrated Thursday against abortion — and especially against Democratic proposals to ease restrictions on late-term abortions.
Activists filled the landing of the Capitol steps, flooding down the hill towards Bank Street. Signs declaring “Equal rights for pre-born people” and other anti-abortion slogans poked out of the crowd as children played and their parents watched.
The Commonwealth for Life: March on Richmond featured General Assembly members, anti-abortion activists and representatives of Christian organizations. Chris and Diana Shores organized the rally in just a week after legislation sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, came into the national spotlight.
Questioned by a Republican about her bill, Tran said it technically would allow a woman about to give birth to have an abortion. After critics accused her of endorsing infanticide, Tran said she misspoke. However, conservative commentators — including President Donald Trump in Tuesday’s State of the Union address — slammed Tran, Gov. Ralph Northam and other Virginia Democrats for supporting the measure.
Chris Shores said he and his wife have been in the political arena for years. When news of Tran’s bill broke, they received a slew of calls asking them what they were going to do about it.
“We threw up a Facebook post last week, and within 24 to 48 hours, we had hundreds of people interested in the post,” Shores said. “It was truly organic.”
The rally was the first time the couple has put on an event of this scale. Speakers included Republican Sens. Dick Black of Loudoun County and Bill Stanley of Franklin County; Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper; and E.W. Jackson, a Protestant minister and lawyer who was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.
While the event featured Republican figures and Christian leaders, Chris Shores said the aim of the March on Richmond was outside party and religious lines.
“I didn’t want this to become a Republican pep rally. That wasn’t the point of the event,” he said.
A central theme to the event was denouncing Tran’s proposal, HB 2491. The bill was tabled by a subcommittee and is dead for this legislative session.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, came under fire from anti-abortion groups after defending the bill on a radio show on Jan. 30. Northam said third-trimester abortions are done “in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non-viable.”
In such instances, the governor said, “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.”
Jackson excoriated Northam for that comment.
“Anybody who is prepared to allow a child to die after that child has been born alive does not deserve to be called a pediatrician,” Jackson said. “He doesn’t deserve to be called a governor either.”
Other speeches at the rally criticized efforts in Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Black, who has opposed abortion in the General Assembly for the past 20 years, said the ERA would be a blow to the anti-abortion movement.
“The ERA is a method that the abortionists want to use,” he said. “If that gets into the Constitution, we will not have any chance to roll back abortion.”
After Trump mentioned the controversy over abortion in Virginia in his nationally televised speech this week, Chris Shores hopes the conversation doesn’t stop.
“We’re going to continue to mobilize and organize and call on pro-life Virginia to stand up,” he said.