Ralph Northam: Tested & Trusted Reproductive Freedom Fighter

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC endorsement press conference March 13, 2017 in Falls Church, Va.

Over the last several election cycles, we have seen just how predominately reproductive rights plays in Virginia’s elections. Democratic voters in Virginia have listed reproductive rights as one of their top three most important issues. Virginia democratic candidates have taken note and started speaking up more boldly for abortion rights. Even NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s endorsement has become a highly-sought and coveted prize. This is a drastic turn of events from just a decade ago, when abortion was a topic many Democratic candidates would privately support, but were wishy-washy, even mute about in public.

What happened? Ralph Northam happened.

In 2012, then state Senator Northam was the game changer for reproductive rights — not just in Virginia, but across the nation. He helped change the trajectory of the reproductive rights movement and kick-started a firestorm that has since emboldened candidates to talk candidly about the importance of reproductive health and freedom in women’s lives.

Here’s the story. In January 2012, the Republicans had just won control over the state Senate in the November elections. When I realized anti-abortion groups planned to make a mandatory ultrasound bill their banner legislation, I was perplexed — I thought they’d go for an extreme abortion ban. But this bill had a particularly insidious twist. It essentially required a shockingly invasive transvaginal ultrasound before a woman could access her constitutionally protected right to abortion.

I brought this information to some colleagues and immediately received push back. One even called it “unseemly” to discuss the mechanics of the transvaginal ultrasound openly. That’s when I approached Senator Northam — the only doctor in the Senate. Despite the fight looking hopeless with anti-abortion republicans in firm control of all three branches of government, Ralph told me he would do whatever it took to stop the bill.

When the bill hit the Senate floor, it was as though Senator Northam had put on his doctor’s coat instead of a suit that morning. He came to the floor ready to fight for his patients and unapologetically took on the patron of the bill — Senator Jill Vogel — calling her out in a confrontational debate.

That exchange sparked a fire. The sheer audacity of the transvaginal ultrasound was too much for the vast majority of Virginians. Hundreds of protesters showed up on the steps of the Capitol almost daily for weeks afterwards! John Stewart and Saturday Night Live lampooned the outrageous bill. National and international outlets also covered the now notorious legislation for several weeks. Thirteen other states also introduced the same bill that year in their legislatures. All 13 of those bills were defeated or pulled due to the unprecedented backlash they witnessed coming out of Virginia.

His ultrasound brawl may be his most well-known fight for reproductive freedom, but Ralph Northam has consistently demonstrated the utmost trust and respect for Virginia women, even when it was not politically expedient.

As the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, I have worked at the General Assembly for ten straight legislative sessions. I can tell you battle stories that would turn your stomach. Stories of apathy in the face of defeat. Stories of surrender when there should have been a battle. Stories of betrayal — from both sides of the aisle — of Virginia women and families. I have steeled myself for the inevitable, heart wrenching losses, and I have geared up to turn those legislative losses into victories on Election Day. Few people understand the loss of an election more intimately than a reproductive rights advocate. Even victories can be superficial if the candidate isn’t willing to be a full-throated champion and principled enough to turn campaign promises into policy priorities.

Endorsing Lt. Governor Ralph Northam was an easy and obvious choice. Ralph doesn’t just vote the right way; he leads the charge into battle. Ralph Northam is one of the most sincere, genuine people I’ve ever met. You don’t find people like him very often in politics. And I don’t say this lightly when I say, I trust him implicitly. He is a principled, proven, progressive leader and a loud and proud, unwavering champion of women’s health and rights. He’s been fighting for Virginia families and our progressive values for nearly 10 years in Richmond. Ralph Northam is the most experienced and qualified to be the Commonwealth’s next leader and we are proud to support his candidacy.