House to vote on Delaware abortion rights bill

DOVER — A Democratic-controlled House panel on Wednesday released a bill to codify abortion rights in state law and strike provisions from the Delaware Code that have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The measure, approved by the Senate last week, now goes to the House floor for a vote.

Technically, Delaware’s state law allows abortions only if the pregnancy results from incest or rape, or if 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.

But the state law is superseded by the 1973 federal court case Roe v. Wade that established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

Some abortion advocates fear that if a U.S. Supreme Court justice retires or dies, President Donald Trump will nominate another conservative who would shift the balance on the court and lead to Roe v. Wade being overturned. The states would then determine whether to authorize abortion, unless Congress acts.

Kate LaMonica , left, and Sharon Kwiatkowski listen to a bill that codifies the abortion law during a House Health & Human Development Committee hearing at Leg Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 5 would allow abortions in Delaware for any reason and would also expand the timeline to let a doctor terminate a pregnancy any time before the fetus is viable.

Viability would be 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.”

Rep. Lyndon Yearick (R) Camden questions Rep. Debra Hefferman about a bill that codifies the abortion law during a House Health & Human Development Committee hearing at Leg Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

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.

Advocates say the legislation brings state law up to standards established by the Supreme Court, but opponents counter it greatly expands abortion.

Speakers testifying against the bill at Wednesday’s House Health & Human Development Committee hearing blasted it as immoral and dangerous.

“In my opinion, abortion is wrong,” Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, said. “Abortion is nothing else but murder. I don’t care how you look at it, when you have an abortion, you are committing murder.”

Several members of the public cited other reasons to vote against the bill, pointing to religion and the case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician convicted of killing babies who were born alive during attempted abortions.

Rep. Debra Hefferman introduces a bill that codifies the abortion law during a House Health & Human Development Committee hearing at Leg Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

But some of the approximately two dozen speakers said abortion is the right of every woman. One relayed her experience of accidentally getting pregnant while still in high school and then having an abortion, while another relayed a story of a woman attempting to have an illegal abortion.

“It’s time for Delaware law to catch up,” said Ruth Lytle-Barnaby, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood of Delaware.

Multiple speakers took issue with Planned Parenthood, noting an alleged botched abortion at the Dover clinic last week.

Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, questioned why a 17-year-old cannot vote or smoke but can have an abortion without parental consent, and Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford, asked why several legislators backing the bill voted against the death penalty last week.

Defending the bill, Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, said it does not change anything currently.

“It does not allow late-term abortion on demand,” she said. “It only permits constitutionally mandated access to abortion after viability if it is needed to safeguard the life or health of the mother or if the fetus has such severe anomalies there is not a reasonable likelihood it will survive outside the uterus without extraordinary measures.”

The proposal could be heard in the House as soon as today.

Spectators listen to a bill that codifies the abortion law during a House Health & Human Development Committee hearing at Leg Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, said his position on the bill “is pretty clear,” but he has not commented on the measure. While in the U.S. House of Representatives, he voted against an amendment to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

A spokesman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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