What is a viable life?

If you pay attention to the news, you’ve probably heard something about Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s comments about women’s health care and abortion. Now, depending on where you watch or read your news, you’ve probably have heard a staunch defense of Mr. Northam or some form of outrage from his comments. In this article, I want to focus on a few things he said and I want to do so intentionally, without any arguments from emotion, and from a Catholic perspective.

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam recently appeared on WTOP’s Ask the Governor program and, in an interview that mostly consisted of conversations on teacher pay, tobacco and marijuana, and DC traffic, made comments about late term abortion that have drawn harsh criticism from pro-lifers. (You can listen to the full interview below, his comments on abortion start at 29:38 and end at 32:00) During the conversation he said that late term abortions, those that take place during the third trimester happen “where there may be severe deformities [or] a fetus that’s nonviable.” He then went on to explain that “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 desire, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” He concluded by saying “this is why legislators, most of whom are men, by the way, shouldn’t be telling a woman what she should and shouldn’t be doing with her body. … We want the government not to be involved in these types of decisions.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s complete interview on WTOP from January 30.

He was asked these question after Virginia State Delegate Kathy Tran defended her bill that would allow abortions during the third trimester and even while the mother was dilating, which is part of the natural birthing process. It also comes after outrage over New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signing a new bill into law that would allow late term abortions in the State of New York. Mr. Cuomo has professed himself to be a Catholic.

I want to begin our analysis with the first quote I published above: that the late term abortion would only take place “where there may be severe deformities [or] a fetus that’s nonviable.” We can only assume that Mr. Northam’s ideas of “severe deformities” are birth defects such as spina bifida, cleft lip and cleft palate, heart defects, and Down syndrome. In a medical context, nonviable means not being able to develop, grow, or survive. These birth defects can make living life difficult and can even shorten life significantly making it nonviable.

The key word I used above is can. My cousin was born with three holes in his heart, all of which were mended through surgery. A friend of my from high school had a brother who had both Down syndrome and autism; he is one of the most joyful eleven year olds I’ve ever met. And lest we forget, in 2017, Frank Stephens became the first person with Down syndrome to ever testify in front of Congress. In his first few sentences, he said “I am a man with Down syndrome and my life is worth living” drawing applause from the committee members and audience. He then went on to say, “We [people with Down syndrome] are giving the world a chance to think about the ethics of choosing which humans get a chance at life.” He concluded by saying research is needed into Down syndrome and that we should end the “final solution,” abortion of children with Down syndrome. (You can watch his full testimony below) Some of these defects can be mended by medicine and others can be lived with, and with great joy as Mr. Stephens says. The idea that these lives are not worth living is simply false. Mr. Stephens, my cousin, and my friend’s brother are some of the best examples. Taking care of these children does introduce new challenges on the parents, but that does not take away any value of the child’s life.

The second quote I would like to address from Mr. Northam is his explanation of how a late term abortion would work, “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 desire, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” The first key here is that “the infant would be delivered.” In his own words, he has described the child as an infant, acknowledging that it is indeed a child. He immediately follows that by saying “delivered” acknowledging that the child has been born. A Huffington Post article entitled, No, Virginia’s Governor Did Not Endorse Killing Babies, even uses the same quote! But if the parents or the physician decide not to resuscitate a child that is born, or if its alive to find a way to end the child’s life, it is murder; it is infanticide.

I’m not entirely sure what Mr. Northam means when he says “the infant would be kept comfortable” or how him or her “being kept comfortable” would be beneficial to the situation at all. However, it does imply that the child is alive if it can indeed feel comfort. And if the discussion between the parents and physician decide not to resuscitate the child or end the child’s life, I’m also not entirely sure how the child would be kept comfortable in that process.

Finally, I would like to address Mr. Northam’s plea to identity, “this is why legislators, most of whom are men, by the way, shouldn’t be telling a woman what she should and shouldn’t be doing with her body.” I have to problems with this argument. First, Mr. Northam’s use of identity politics. Identity politics is a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics. It is also used as a rhetorical tool to try and make the claim that one people cannot make a claim nor prescription about another people because they have not had the same experiences. It is true that I, as a man, will never have the same physical or emotional experiences as a woman. That is a biological fact. My second issue with Mr. Northam’s argument is that it exclusively a woman and her body. However, a child when it is born is not part of a woman’s body (and I don’t know anyone who would argue that it is). An hour before the child is born, it is still in her body, but Mr. Northam equates this to being part of the women’s body. During birth, the child moves six inches down the birth canal and out of the body. No physical change happens to the child whatsoever. But for some reason this six inch move makes its part of the woman’s body and then an independent person.

Here’s my point, Mr. Northam’s argument that men have no say in the matter about what women do with their bodies is to say that men have no say in what happens to their children. This is where my second problem combines with my first. If the child is a part of the woman’s body, even after it has been delivered as Mr. Northam has said himself, then men have no say in what happens to it. Men play an incredibly important role in their child’s lives and, at some point, a man was involved to help create this child in the first place and should, therefore, have equal say in what happens to it. But moreover, I believe that life beings at conception, so do many other men and I have every right to work to try and restrict abortion because it is in defense of that life, an individual life, which should have an equal chance to be brought into this world as you and I. It’s one of the reasons why I did an interview on WIZS about the March for Life a few weeks ago. (You can listen to that interview below)

That was the logical analysis of Mr. Northam’s statements. Now I would like to address what we believe as Catholics. Paragraph 2270 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” It continues in 2271 by saying, “since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” Jeremiah 1:5 says “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and made thee a prophet unto the nations.”* The Catholic Church is clear: abortion and infanticide is a moral evil. And if we are to be Catholics, members of the whole church which is what the word “catholic” means, then we must remain in communion with Church teaching.

This brings me to a statement on Mr. Cuomo of New York. Mr. Cuomo has overwhelmingly endorsed New York’s new law allowing late term abortions, similar to the bill that Mrs. Tran is attempting to introduce in Virginia. Mr. Cuomo also professes himself to be a Catholic. On numerous occasions, however, he has promoted programs and practices that contradict Church teaching and has even spoken out against the Church. Some are calling for his excommunication, the formal denial of communion from his bishop until he makes a legitimate and public apology and repents. Mr. Cuomo falls under the jurisdiction of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York. Cardinal Dolan appeared on Fox News Channel’s Fox and Friends earlier this week and said “I think that [excommunication] would be counter productive” and “he won’t be moved by this, so what would be the point?” You can watch Cardinal Dolan’s interview below. Excommunication is only used if it has a likely chance of causing one to repent and return to the Church and since that isn’t likely to happen here, Cardinal Dolan has chosen not to do so. When asked about denying Mr. Cuomo the holy Eucharist, he said that is a pastoral and parish issue that should be dealt with on that level. I tend to agree with Cardinal Dolan on this issue.

So what are we, the faithful, called to do? I’ve said it before and I will say it again, pray. Prayer is the most effective tool we have to help change the hearts and minds of people. Prayer works. So please join me now:

Almighty and ever living God, we know that you love the human race. We ask that you look with mercy upon abortion providers, abortion advocates, and would be mothers who have chosen to have abortions. Look upon them with love and forgiveness and help them by opening their hearts and minds to you and your holy Word and will. We also ask that you help us to spread the pro-life message and your holy Word. Give us courage, strength, and grace to persevere through these times and to persevere in prayer.
Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Sorrows, Pray for us.
Jesus, protect and save the unborn.

Thanks for sticking with EPIC Radio in our almost month long blog silence. We’ve been working on a lot of great things coming up including our new radio station in Wake Forest! We are happy to be carrying Relevant Radio programming such as Patrick Madrid, Drew Mariani, and the live Rosary Across America every day! We do need monetary support to keep this station running though, so please prayerfully consider donating to help us keep Catholic radio in Wake Forest. We only need fifty people to donate $10 a month! You can learn more on WFNE’s website, which can be found here.

We’re looking forward to a great 2019 and may God bless you and you’re families this year!
May the dogma of the Church always live loudly from within you,

*Why are we using an old English translation of the Bible? We are using the Catholic Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible because it is in the public domain. Most modern Bible translations are copyrighted. “Publishers retain rights to their translations because producing a Bible translation is an enormously extensive (and expensive) project. A single translation can represent years of work by hundreds of scholars, theologians, and editors, all of whom need to be reimbursed for their work. By retaining their copyright to the translation and asking you to respect that copyright, publishers are able to pay their translators and ensure continued translation work” (from BibleGateway.com). We have chosen to use the Douay-Rheims because it is a Church approved translation of the Bible with the apocrypha. The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition is published by the John Murphy Company of Balitmore, Maryland.

Since you’re here, EPIC Radio 103.5FM will be a new radio station in Wake Forest and we need your help!  Your donation of just $10 a month or more will help keep Catholic radio in our community.  Click here for more info.


Published by Matthew Handley

Matthew Handley is the Executive Director of EPIC Radio and is the general manager of its radio station in Wake Forest. He invites you to comment on his posts and to follow him on Twitter (@realHandlez).

6 thoughts on “What is a viable life?

  1. Hi, not a Catholic, but a thought occurs to me. Scripture actually describes the steps involved in Church discipline. He (Gov. Cuomo) is to be spoken to one on one. If he refuses to repent, bring a few members along to address it. If he is still unrepentant, then bring it before the Church body. If he still refuses, then out he goes from the Church. He is the same as an unbeliever.

    Consider Matt. 18:15-17


    1. Thank you for your comment. You make a very good point and I tend to agree with you. What Cardinal Dolan’s concern is, and he says in the interview that he is flooded with letters to excommunicate Mr. Cuomo every day, that excommunication should only be used if it is going to change his heart. Mr. Cuomo has repeatedly and publicly contradicted the Church and her teachings as Governor of New York and he uses his criticisms as applause lines to his supporters. So, excommunication, in Cardinal Dolan’s mind likely won’t change his heart.

      That being said, you’re right. Jesus does tell us to go to someone one on one if they have sinned against us, then bring a few, and if they still haven’t changed, go to the Church. But, the question is who has Mr. Cuomo sinned against? Has he sinned against me personally? Or has he sinned against the Church as a whole?

      Cardinal Dolan, when asked about having his pastor deny him communion, he did delegate that as a pastoral issue and it should be dealt with on that level. He also said that Mr. Cuomo may have stopped receiving the Eucharist on his own. I don’t know if that is true or not, nor will I pretend to know what is on his heart. All I do know is that we should pray for him and everyone who endorses and advocates for this bill.

      Thanks for reading the article and for the comment!


  2. Regrettably, I think you may be right about his heart. It’s clear that he has chosen the world over his God, which is tragic enough. That he has chosen to do it in a manner that ensures he will go to his grave with hands soaked in innocent blood simply makes him worse. Not sure what your Church can do in a situation like this, but he is a monster.

    In answer to your question of who it is that he has sinned against, God first and foremost. Next, your Church, as he has refused to abide by Scripturally sound doctrine. You and all other Catholics, as he had tarnished your image, and all of Christendom for the same reason. So, everyone, especially the babies who will be slaughtered because of him.

    The importance of Communion is one of those definite points where Catholics and Protestants agree. Denying him Communion is a major step, but I get the sense that it doesn’t seem to bother him that much. It’s a shame the Vatican can’t go all Inquisition on him. Does your Church have any other options? Mine would simply disfellowship him, and kick him out, which I guess is the same as excommunication. In either case, I get the sense that his Cardinal has some major decisions ahead of him. May the Lord grant him wisdom in this matter.

    P.S. My mother and stepfather are Catholic, though she only converted a few years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think Dolan’s argument about giving our enemies ammunition makes any sense at all. What about the faithful Catholics that DON’T WANT to be affiliated with an institution that allows someone like Andrew Cuomo to belong? Governor Cuomo blatantly shows complete disregard and contempt for Catholic teachings and CELEBRATES expanding the murder of babies. I will pray for our country, but it seems as though many have been given over to blood lust of the innocent.


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