A few minutes ago on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates, we witnessed an intense debate over abortion legislation, and also over social media tactics used by Republicans yesterday to try and make an exchange Monday between bill sponsor Del. Kathy Tran and House Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert “go viral.” As I pointed out here, there’s no doubt that the video did indeed “go viral,” with threats and nasty comments prompting Del. Tran to contact the police and to pull down her Twitter and Facebook accounts late yesterday. With that background, here are four videos – two by Democrats (House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. Vivian Watts), two by Republicans (Speaker Kirk Cox, coming down from his normal dais to deliver remarks from the floor; and House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert).
First, Speaker Cox – who, by the way, has received zeroes from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in almost every year since he’s been in the state legislature – warned that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam would enact legislation repealing restrictions on abortion (e.g., in the third trimester) if Democrats take back control of the General Assembly in November. According to Cox, “we are really one small step from New York,” where “the Republican Senate flipped…in November, and we have essentially abortion right up to birth.” Cox said he’s
“ashamed” that he hasn’t spoken out more on this issue, that “my record has been spotty at best.” Cox vowed that he would “never stop fighting for the promise of life, as long as I hold a gavel, as long as I can speak from this microphone, as long as I have the privilege of this floor.”
For her part, Virginia House Democratic Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn said that it’s been claimed on the floor that “despite sincere and strong differences and disagreements we have on so many issues…[that] as members of this body, we are part of a family, that we take care of each other and that we look out for one another.” Del. Filler-Corn proceeded (bolding added for emphasis):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today because of an incident that occurred on Monday in one of our committees that spilled into cyberspace yesterday – the consequences of which we are still feeling today. A video of one of our members was posted on social media but what I had hoped was an overzealous staffer from the other side of the aisle. What the video showed was one of our members answering questions about a specific bill, deliberately misleading and clearly was part of an orchestrated ambush. Further, Mr. Speaker, the resulting video, which was selectively edited and the accompanying tweets and Facebook posts were completely and deliberately…mischaracterizing the legislation…as well as mischaracterization of what the current law is in…Virginia today. The post clearly, and the tweets, were made to inflame passions throughout the social media echo chamber. And they succeeded. What was the result? Ongoing harassment, intimidation against the patron, several members of this body, their families and their children.
And this morning. Mr. Speaker, the Republican Party of Virginia now fundraising off the video in question and continuing to spread it throughout the internet…Mr. Speaker, it’s not lost that these insidious tactics were used againt not just a member of this body, not just a woman member of the House of Delegates, but by a woman delegate who was literally nursing her infant on the floor of the House last session and walking around the Capitol with her newborn on her hip...I understand that in a few short weeks, campaign season will be amongst us and the gloves will be off. But here, while we’re legislation, while we’re debating issues, while we’re doing the work of the people, what transpired yesterday was wrong, and it’s really beneath this body and unacceptable…It’s not taking care of each other, looking out for each other. It’s profoundly disappointing…I hope that we can show that we are all better than this.”
House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R), whose questioning of Del. Tran was at the center of the viral video (and whose caucus pushed it out on social media), responded to Del. Filler-Corn’s characterization of the edited video as “deliberately misleading…edited…mischaracterized,” saying that it “does not get any better after this particular clip.” Gilbert claimed that what Democrats are “most concerned about is what this moment actually revealed…unbridled honesty about their agenda and their legislation and what it actually does; that’s what they don’t like about this.” Gilbert claimed that the bill “removed all meaningful limitations” on abortion, which he called “quite horrifying.” Gilbert did say that “no member of this body should have to endure personal threats to themselves, their family and especially children,” but of course didn’t mention what prompted those threats was the video that his caucus put out. Gilbert said he hoped “all of Virginia, even those who consider themselves pro-choice…saw the agenda on display,” and claimed that Democrats are trying to “distract” from that “agenda.”
Finally, Del. Vivian Watts (D) told stories to illustrate “what choice really [is],” about how late-term abortions are in almost every case “necessitated in the case of women who desperately want to carry out the pregnancy, but the health issues are such that in the medical decision of the woman, hopefully at her side the father, and the medical doctor are painful, often delayed, because you don’t want to terminate the pregnancy.” Del. Watts said she had watched her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy, which ended up not being a healthy pregnancy as the pregnancy went on, and “the grief, the mourning begins as you make that decision.” Which is why, Del. Watts argued, the Supreme Court ruled that there shouldn’t be a “specific point that we will override the health of the mother, the medical decision.” Del. Watts argued that one should “not assume that women and their families and their medical doctors are making anything but the deepest possible personal, moral choice when they exercise choice.”