The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Del. Kathy Tran was known for nursing her baby on the House floor. Now she’s getting death threats over abortion.

Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) issued a video statement Jan. 31 clarifying the intent of her bill which she says would help remove barriers to abortion. (Video: Delegate Kathy Tran/Facebook)

Virginia Del. Kathy Tran said Thursday that she “misspoke” during a legislative hearing earlier this week about a bill that would have loosened restrictions on late-term abortions. Her comments sparked death threats, and intense backlash from GOP politicians — including President Trump.

“I wish that I was quicker on my feet and I wish that I was able to be more agile in that moment,” Tran, 41, a first-term Democrat from Fairfax County, said in an interview. “And I misspoke, and I really regret that.”

When a Republican lawmaker asked during the hearing whether the bill would allow for an abortion to occur when a woman is in labor and about to give birth, Tran said yes.

But on Thursday, Tran, a mother of four, corrected herself. “I should have said: ‘Clearly, no, because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth.’ ”

An edited video of Tran’s testimony was circulated and went viral on social media, leading some on Twitter to call Tran a “baby killer” or “a demonic creature.” Asked about the incident by the Daily Caller, Trump said he had seen the video and called Tran’s testimony “terrible.”

“Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb?” Trump said. “That’s what it is. That’s what they’re doing.”

Trump, GOP attack Va. Democrats over bill addressing abortion restrictions

The uproar also targeted Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — a pediatric neurologist — who was asked about Tran’s remarks in a radio interview Wednesday and gave an answer that was later used by Republicans to suggest he favored killing live babies.

Northam told WTOP that late-term abortions are “done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s not viable. So in this particular example, if a mother’s 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 spokeswoman said his words were being taken out of context, and the governor was not trying to say that discussions between a woman and her doctor after a baby is born would include options for termination.

Northam called the notion that he would approve of killing infants “disgusting.”

Tran said she and her family have received death threats through telephone messages, email and social media, leading to extra police protection for her and her family, and difficult discussions with her elementary-school-aged children.

“It’s a very tough conversation to have with your little ones about how they need to be safe and watch out for themselves, and that it’s okay to ask for help,” said Tran, who lives in West Springfield. “I love my kids dearly. They are my world, and their safety is my number-one priority.”

The intensity of the backlash moved one of the bill’s 22 Democratic co-sponsors to back away from the legislation, even though it had already been tabled in committee on Monday, and was identical to bills that had been proposed in the legislature, and failed, in past years.

“I vaguely remember signing on to this, and I did this in solidarity with my colleague and as a symbolic gesture for a woman’s right to choose,” Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) wrote in a letter to constituents. “I am sorry that I did not exercise due diligence before this explosion of attention.”

Late-term abortions are already permitted under Virginia law when the mother’s life or health would be “substantially and irredeemably” harmed by continuing a pregnancy, as certified by three physicians. There is no time limit on third-trimester abortions; the procedure may take up until delivery.

Tran’s bill would have removed the phrase “substantially and irredeemably” when it comes to defining the risk a mother would face by continuing the pregnancy. It also would have required just one physician to certify the need for the procedure, instead of three. And it would have allowed second-trimester abortions to be performed in a clinic, instead of a hospital.

“I’ve had women in my family, women in my district and women across Virginia who’ve told me that they’ve really had to grapple with the very personal, private decision as to whether or not they’re going to have an abortion,” Tran said about her decision to put her bill forward. “This bill would have repealed these barriers for them to access safely this medical service in consultation with their doctor.”

She noted that consideration of the same legislation in previous years did not prompt similar reaction from Republicans.

Tran arrived in Richmond last year as part of a wave of Democratic women whose electoral victories in Northern Virginia nearly leveled the balance of power in the General Assembly, narrowing the GOP majority in each chamber to just two seats.

Women who made history in recent elections are changing Virginia House

Democrats are hoping to win majorities in both the House and Senate in November, when every seat in the legislature is on the ballot.

The first Asian American woman to win a seat in the Virginia House, Tran came to the United States as a Vietnam boat refu­gee in the 1970s, when she was an infant, according to her campaign website.

After earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, Tran worked at the U.S. Labor Department, then joined the National Immigration Forum advocacy group.

In 2017, she ran for the seat being vacated by retiring delegate Dave Albo (R-Fairfax). She says she decided to seek public office after realizing that her fourth baby was due on the day that Trump would be inaugurated as president of the United States.

Tran campaigned on a platform that includes creating more opportunities for immigrants, equal pay for women and expanding Medicaid in Virginia, beating Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak by 22 points. She often brought her infant, Elise, doorknocking with her, strapped in a carrier that she wore on her chest.

Once in Richmond, Tran drew attention for nursing Elise — by then a year old — on the House floor. She and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) worked with first lady Pam Northam to establish lactation rooms inside the Capitol and started an informal “parents’ caucus” to help members — male or female — deal with the tricky issues of raising young children while serving in the legislature.

On Thursday, Tran sought to return to normalcy, attending the House floor session and chatting during lulls in the action with both Democrats and Republicans who checked in on her well-

She then rushed across the Capitol to a committee meeting. Along the way, a few people demonstrating in favor of LGBT protection laws recognized the delegate and offered waves or hugs.

At a Commerce and Labor committee meeting, she presented a far less incendiary bill seeking to create a pilot program for municipalities to generate and sell renewable energy. Without much discussion, the committee moved the bill to the House floor on a 19-to-2 vote. The bill had already passed a subcommittee 10-0.

Tran also continued with plans for a joint town hall meeting Saturday with Sens. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) and George Barker (D-Fairfax) to discuss taxes, transportation and other concerns in her district.

She called the use of her testimony by the Republican Party of Virginia — which sent out the edited clip in a fundraising email Wednesday — a sad reminder of the country’s broken political discourse.

“I understand that there’s a lot of passion on both sides with any issue,” Tran said. “I think it’s really important that we get the whole story and have a civil discourse. We must be able to continue to listen to one another and not just shout and base things off of 30-second clips.”

Gregory S. Schneider in Richmond contributed to this report.

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