- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2019

The abortion wars that flared up unexpectedly in Virginia earlier this year will see another battle this fall in a key House of Delegates race in Fairfax County.

Nick Bell, the Republican challenger running in the 39th District of the House of Delegates, is putting the issues of infanticide and abortion at the center of his campaign in hopes of ousting veteran Democratic Delegate Vivian Watts.

The race is one of many being closely watched this November, as Democrats fell just short of capturing the chamber in 2017 and are seeking the net two-seat gain Nov. 5th to take control. Conservatives and pro-life groups have also rallied to Mr. Bell’s cause, attempting a difficult race in what has become a Democratic bastion in the state.

But the Democrats’ drive to flip control of both houses of the General Assembly has been complicated after a national controversy sparked by comments from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran. In defending a bill intended to expand access to abortion services, both suggested the law also allowed for infanticide after the baby was delivered. It was those remarks — and Ms. Watts‘ vote for the legislation — that Mr. Bell says motivated him to enter the race.

“I think the Democrats have gone so far extreme that we have got to fight back,” Mr. Bell said. “If you aren’t going to defend the right to life for babies after birth, how are you going to defend other rights? The right to life is the most fundamental.”

Ms. Watts called Mr. Bell’s charge that she supports infanticide “totally inaccurate,” and that she voted only to keep the debate on the bill going to continue the discussion on provisions related to mandatory ultrasound examinations.

The bill, which was designed to ease the state’s restrictions on abortion, never made it out of committee. It would have changed the requirement that an abortion preformed during the second trimester be performed in a hospital; removed the requirement that an ultrasound be done before the abortion; and lowered the number of physicians required to sign off on a third trimester abortion from three to one.

The bill did not legalize infanticide, but Mr. Northam and Ms. Tran muddied the waters — and were called out by President Trump in his State of the Union address — after speculating on how infants who were supposed to be aborted would be treated if they were delivered alive.

“This example speaks to the difficulty of writing the law to achieve the goal of reducing abortions in the third trimester to as absolutely as few as possible while allowing for the reality of serious medical issues,” Ms. Watts wrote in a letter she sent to constituents in March explaining her position.

The first thing Mr. Bell says he would do if elected would be to propose legislation to protect the lives of infants who survived a failed abortion, referencing what he said was data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recording 143 cases of infants surviving abortion.*

According to CDC data, about 91% of abortions are performed at fewer than 13 weeks gestation. Abortions at 21 weeks or more into a pregnancy account for about 1% of all abortions.

Last year, the GOP-dominated legislature in Richmond passed a law that requires multiple levels of hospital reviews and physician responsibility before making life-support decisions.

Mr. Bell left his job as a special assistant in the Department of Labor to challenge Ms. Watts, who has been the district’s representative since 1996. Before that, she served as the state’s transportation and public safety secretary. She says her incumbency and long record are an advantage in the race.

“That kind of breadth [of experience] that I’ve had is extremely valuable when about half of the members of the House have served less than five years,” Ms. Watts said. A self-proclaimed nerd, she acknowledged that experience is only an advantage if the member stays current, which she does by speaking to a broad range of groups and studying the issues.

Mr. Bell previously was a legislative correspondent for Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, and before that lived in Spain teaching English.

In a traditionally Democratic district, Mr. Bell said his strategy will be to be honest about his beliefs and pledge to do his best if elected. Another plank in his platform: eliminating all toll roads in Northern Virginia and turning them back into regular roads.

Mr. Bell noted he isn’t accepting any corporate campaign funding, but said he has attracted the financial support to wage a competitive race.

“I will be the most well-funded opponent she has ever faced,” Mr. Bell said, citing that in the last recording period he raised more money than Ms. Watts, much of it from out-of-state sources attracted by the prominence of the abortion issue in the race.

Ms. Watts said her priorities include seeking more funding for transportation, improving mental health services for veterans and school funding reform.

All 100 seats of the Virginia House of Delegates as well as the 40 seats in the Senate are up for reelection. Republicans hold a 21-19 edge in the Senate and a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates.

*The original story incorrectly reported that the CDC lacked data on infant deaths involving induced termination of pregnancy. The report from the CDC can be viewed here

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