Abortion rights advocates push proposal to change state law

DOVER — Technically, Delaware law still restricts abortion.

Abortion has been legal nationwide since 1973 when the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade was decided, but the Delaware Code still contains statutes against the procedure.

The code makes it a misdemeanor for a woman to terminate her own pregnancy and a felony for someone else to do so. It includes a few provisions allowing for legal abortion if continuing the pregnancy would seriously injury the mother. That includes if the child is likely to be born with serious defects or disabilities or if the pregnancy stems from rape or incest. Abortions must take place within the first 20 weeks of the pregnancy.

However, these sections of state law are superseded by the federal case of Roe v. Wade. That means a woman may obtain an abortion for any reason in the first six months of the pregnancy.

But Delaware does require minors under 16 years of age to notify a parent or guardian.

While Roe v. Wade has been a national precedent for more than 40 years, the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court has some abortion-rights advocates worried.

“Right now, we’re concerned. With another appointment (to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, we would be very concerned,” said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.

To that end, the ACLU of Delaware is working with Planned Parenthood of Delaware to overturn the state’s 1953 law banning abortions.

The two groups have launched a new campaign called She Decides Delaware with the intention of passing legislation to “take what Roe v. Wade has done … and put that into Delaware law,” Ms. MacRae said.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have spoken to legislators. Ms. MacRae said she’s aiming for a bill to be introduced by the beginning of May. The measure, she said, s still being drafted.

Ms. MacRae refused to say who the main supporters in the General Assembly are, noting the efforts are not finished.

While many abortion-rights advocates have long been aware Delaware has laws against abortion, there’s never been a real need to fight the statutes, according to Ms. MacRae.

“The general opinion was, well, you know, it’s not a problem so let’s just let sleeping dogs lie, and now with the rhetoric coming out of Washington and the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch and we said to each other, ‘Now is the time. We need to codify the protections that women in the United States have enjoyed since Roe v. Wade,’” she said.

According to a Gallup poll from May, 79 percent of Americans support abortion under certain circumstances. The same poll reports 47 percent of Americans consider themselves pro-choice, whereas 46 percent define themselves as pro-life.

Close to 2,600 abortions were conducted in Delaware in 2013, according to the Division of Public Health.

Ms. MacRae said the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have been reaching out to many left-leaning political organizations and are sending messages to lawmakers.

“It’s important that Delaware families have the opportunity to decide when they want to start a family and that all reproductive options need to be on the table,” she insisted.

Both chambers of the General Assembly are controlled by Democrats, but a pro-abortion bill could still fail.

Several bills that would have changed the state’s abortion law, including raising the age for parental notice from 16 to 18, have been introduced in the General Assembly over the past decade. But they have all failed to pass.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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