Abortion bill passes House, will be signed into law


DOVER — Legislation that would codify abortion law is now awaiting action from Gov. John Carney after the House passed it Tuesday. The governor, a Democrat, will sign the bill, which passed 22-16, with three lawmakers absent. Two Democrats joined the Republicans in voting against it.

The measure, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 5, would strike provisions from the Delaware Code that have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and guarantee access to abortion in the event a landmark federal court case is overturned.

Technically, Delaware’s current state law allows abortions only if the pregnancy results from incest or rape, the baby will probably be born with serious deformities or disabilities, or the pregnancy is likely to seriously harm the mother. In addition, under state law all abortions must be performed within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

While the law is superseded by the 1973 court case Roe v. Wade, some abortion rights advocates fear that if a U.S. Supreme Court justice retires or dies, President Donald Trump will nominate a conservative justice who would shift the balance on the high court and lead to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

The states would then determine whether to authorize abortion, unless Congress acts.

It’s because of that possibility, supporters of abortion rights say, that Delaware must update its laws. Opponents, however, counter abortion is “murder” and the bill would expand the time period in which an abortion can be performed.

The bill would allow abortions for any reason and would expand the timeline to let a doctor terminate a pregnancy any time before the fetus is “viable,” defined as “the point in a pregnancy when, in a physician’s good faith medical judgment based on the factors of a patient’s case, there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus’s sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.”

An abortion could be performed after viability in the event of potential harm to the mother or the fetus being unlikely to survive outside the womb.

The proposal, if it becomes law, would not change anything unless Roe v. Wade is struck down.

Tuesday’s discussion was a tense one, with debates not just over the merits of the bill but over the constitutionality of several amendments. Proposals to ban abortion after 20 weeks, tighten the definition of viability and require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion were struck down as unconstitutional or irrelevant, angering Republicans.

Members of the GOP spoke out in frustration after the second amendment was tossed, causing House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, to bang his gavel and threaten to begin removing people from the chamber if they did not quiet down.

After a break of more than 50 minutes to allow Republicans to draw up new amendments, the House reconvened. As expected, Democrats then voted down the two proposed changes.

Viability was a sticking point for opponents, with Republicans unsuccessfully attempting to change the definition several times.

Lawmakers in the minority did most of the speaking in the hourslong debate: Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, blasted the legislation as “a license to murder,” and Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, read a letter from Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon who is now the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in opposition to the bill.

Democrats defended the bill as bringing the Delaware Code up-to-date with the precedent set by Roe v. Wade and guaranteeing access to legal abortions.

“Whether I agree with abortion or not, I just believe in a woman’s right to choose,” Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover, said.

Before lawmakers went into session, more than 100 people gathered outside Legislative Hall to protest the bill.

“While 20 other states have passed reasonable limits on abortion after five months in the last several years, Delaware is headed backwards,” anti-abortion activist Ellen Barrosse said in a statement.

Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life group, said it spent close to $100,000 opposing the bill.

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