Ralph Northam's yearbook page shows man in KKK costume and another apparently in blackface

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Va. gov. responds to critics over abortion

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook page surfaced Friday, containing a photograph of two unidentified men — one appears to be wearing blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

The page, which was first reported by the Virginian-Pilot, is from the 1984 East Virginia Medical School yearbook, the year which Northam graduated. Northam is a pediatrician.

Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook page WTVR News 3 Brendan Ponton

An accompanying quote under the photo reads: "There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I'll have another beer."

Northam released a statement Friday afternoon apologizing for the photo, saying, "I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now."

"This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians' faith in that commitment," Northam said. "I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor."

CBS News uncovered a page from Northam's yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute which had nicknames listed underneath his name. One of them was "Coonman," a racial slur.

A reporter from CBS News affiliate News 3, Brendan Ponton, went to the Eastern Virginia Medical School library in Norfolk Friday afternoon and found the page on which the photo appears. The image in the yearbook caps off a difficult week for Northam. Earlier this week, he was criticized for comments he made about late-term abortion.

A new bill proposed in the state legislature would loosen restrictions on abortions during the third trimester of pregnancy, and allow abortions during the second trimester to take place outside hospitals. The bill would require only one doctor to make the determination that the pregnancy threatens the woman's life or health. The proposed legislation would also eliminate the requirement that abortions during the second trimester be performed in a state-licensed hospital.

Northam came under fire for comments he made on WTOP radio Wednesday when asked about the bill.

"When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physicians, more than one physician, by the way," Northam said. "And it's done in cases where there any be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that's non-viable. So in this particular example, if a mother is 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. So I think this was really blown out of proportion."

At a press conference Thursday, Northam said his words had been misinterpreted.

"We're here to set the record straight. Virginia Democrats are on the side of ensuring women get the health care they need," Northam said. Northam also accused Republicans of being uncivil in their response to the bill. "Virginia Democrats know that we're better than that," he said.

First published on February 1, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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