Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of the US state of Virginia, is facing calls to resign after he confirmed he appeared in a racist yearbook photo and said he is “deeply sorry.”
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Northam said in a statement Friday.
“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,” he said.
The photo, which was carried by various US media outlets, depicts two people, one in blackface, the other dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.
Northam did not specify which outfit he was wearing in the image, which has prompted calls for him to resign — including from several Democratic presidential hopefuls.
“These images arouse centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence and they’ve eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam’s ability to lead. We should expect more from our elected officials. He should resign,” tweeted Senator Cory Booker, who is black, hours after announcing he would run in 2020.
California Senator Kamala Harris, another African-American White House hopeful, meanwhile tweeted that “the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government.”
The governor has also been under fire over remarks about a bill that would have rolled back restrictions on late-term abortions.
Republicans took particular issue with comments he made when asked if the bill would allow for abortions to be performed when a woman was already in labor.
“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,” he said.
“And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Though his spokeswoman, Northam said his words were taken out of context, and were only meant to apply if a woman in dire circumstances went into labor.
The bill failed to advance out of committee, but Republicans including President Donald Trump pounced on the comments.
“Democrats are becoming the Party of late term abortion, high taxes, Open Borders and Crime!” Trump tweeted.
The US Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 with its decision in Roe v. Wade, but the issue remains one of the most politically divisive in the United States.