The complexities of Delaware’s abortion laws

BY Staff Reporter

On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court made a historic ruling in Roe v. Wade that shook the nation. The country is still shaking today, 46 years later.

The landmark decision of Roe v. Wade ruled that abortions may not be criminalized by the States. Other cases expanded on this ruling as time went on, with the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey adding that no state can create an “undue burden” for women who seek abortions, a definition later clarified in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016).

The nature of the Constitution allows for each state to impose its own regulations regarding the finer points of access and restrictions, continuing the debate over the legality and ethics of abortions.

These debates are not confined to courtrooms, however. They are found on the front pages of newspapers, hammered into license plates, shouted from busy city streets and spray painted on abandoned train cars.

Delaware is no exception.

Delaware abortion info-graph
Rachel Ornstein /THE REVIEW
Above is a breakdown of what resources are available for abortions, how often abortions are performed in Delaware and when.

A 2014 Pew Research study showed that 55% of Delawareans believe abortion should be legal in most cases, while 38% said it should be illegal in most cases.” The remaining six percent were undecided.

Since Roe v. Wade, some states have maintained more restrictive abortion laws, the majority of which have been passed in the past decade. From 2010 to 2016, state and federal legislators passed 338 laws to restrict access to abortions, representing 30% of the 1,142 abortion restrictions passed since Roe v. Wade.

Sarah Best, the public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of Delaware, believes that, despite the trend of greater restriction, Delaware has more accessibility to abortion than most states. Recently, lawmakers implemented a law to maintain access to abortions in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“Delaware was the first state after [President Donald] Trump was elected to protect a women’s right to abortion by passing SB5,” Best said. “Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the right to abortion is safe.”

The current laws in Delaware include that no person, hospital or governing board can be required to perform an abortion. A refusal to administer one does not provide grounds for legal action (24 Del. C. 1953, § 1791).

In addition, before a doctor performs an abortion, women must wait 24 hours following a thorough explanation of the procedure and give written consent. If the patient is under 18 or has been declared mentally ill or incompetent, parental consent is required to follow through with the abortion. (70 Del. Laws, c. 186, § 1).

Delaware prohibits abortions after the point of viability, which is typically between 22 and 24 of fetal gestation. Abortions after this window are allowed only if they are deemed necessary for the protection of the woman’s life or health, or if it is extremely unlikely the fetus will naturally survive (24 Del. C. 1953, § 1790).

Delaware’s definition of the point of viability adds an additional two to four weeks to the common 20 week criteria used in other states, increasing the length of time during which a women can have an abortion.

Best believes abortion is a vital aspect of reproductive healthcare, and as such, should continue to be protected by state laws nation-wide.

“Abortion is reproductive healthcare, and reproductive healthcare is healthcare,” Best said.

However, Delaware State Senator Bryant Richardson (R-21) and House Representative Richard Collins (R-41) continue to propose increased abortion restrictions.

Most recently, the pair introduced two sets of bills. SB 21 and HB 52, which paired with SB 19 and HB 5. The first duo, known as “The Pain Capable Unborn Protection Act,” would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks. The second set of bills, SB 19 and HB 53, known as “The Woman’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act,” would have required physicians to ask women considering an abortion if they would like to see an ultrasound photo or hear the fetal heartbeat first. Richardson and Collins have previously stated they believe abortion to be a form of infanticide.

In an email to The Review, Richardson indicated that he believes abortion is a crime against humanity.

“Consider that the United States is one of only seven nations in the world that allow abortions after 20 weeks,” Richardson stated. “I wonder when our nation took such a radical view on human life.”

The proposed bills have struggled to leave committee, which Richardson attributes to Delaware’s Democratic majority, but hopes future administrations can take steps to further restrict abortion.

“I heard a story today about a zoo in Salisbury, Md.,” Richardson said. “People were upset because there was a zookeeper chasing geese away and crushing their eggs, but a lot of those people protesting the destruction of those eggs are the same people promoting abortion. It’s a shame they can’t make the same connection to human life.”

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