“Horror and Outrage”: Legislators propose restricting abortions in Delaware
Associate News Editor
A pair of Delaware General Assembly legislators introduced four bills in late January that, if passed, would tighten abortion restrictions in the state.
One set of the bills (SB 19/ HB 53), called “The Woman’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act,” would require physicians to ask women considering abortions whether they want to see an ultrasound photo or hear the fetus’ heartbeat. The other (SB 21/HB 52) would prohibit abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.
The legislators’ proposal to cap non-emergency abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy would tighten the existing state law that allows abortions “before viability.” Fetuses usually reach viability, the point at which it could survive outside of the womb without extensive medical attention, between the 22nd and 24th week of pregnancy, according to The New York Times.
The debate over if and when abortions should be legal is a common theme in states across the country, not just in Delaware.
Tennessee state legislators introduced a bill last week that would prohibit all abortions that are not “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” This bill, if passed, would only take effect if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade or if a constitutional amendment restored to states the ability to prohibit abortions.
New York, on the other hand, passed a law last month that loosens late-term abortion restrictions. The new law allows New York women to have non-emergency abortions until the end of the 24th week of pregnancy or up until term if the fetus will not survive or the delivery of the baby threatens the mother’s life or health.
“We think that [abortion] is wrong, just as if you took a kitten or a puppy and ripped them apart in front of people,” Representative Richard Collins (R-41), one of the legislators working on Delaware’s anti-abortion bills, said. “I can guarantee you that would bring about horror and outrage like no one has ever experienced, but somehow, as long as it’s inside a woman’s body and being done by someone in an isolated room where nobody sees it, it’s just fine for a lot of people.”
Collins said that he partnered with Senator Bryant Richardson (R-21), who introduced bills with the same intentions in the last legislative session, to address the legislation in both chambers and attempt to increase its chance of passing.
“Frankly, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t think to do what [Richardson] did first,” Collins, who also co-sponsored one of Richardson’s abortion-restricting bills last year, said. “I think it’s a noble thing, and I’m really glad he did it, and I thought I would jump on board and help out this year.”
While Richardson and Collins are pushing for their bills, Planned Parenthood is advocating against them.
“At Planned Parenthood we know how important it is for women to have accurate information about all of their options and to have full support in making their decisions,” Sarah Best, the public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood of Delaware and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Delaware, stated in a press release. “Restrictions such as pre-viability bans and bills that require Ultrasounds and fetal heart tone auscultations be offered to patients interfere with the patient-doctor relationship, and are ultimately intended to shame and intimidate women.”
Richardson and Collins justified this reduction in the potential abortion period, claiming fetuses begin to sense pain around the 20th week week of pregnancy. The duo said they based this claim on scientific research, but they do not cite any specific studies in their legislation.
Scientists do not seem to have a uniform opinion on when fetuses begin feeling pain. According to The New York Times, some researchers believe fetuses can feel pain after the 20th week of pregnancy, while others believe that is not possible until at least the 24th week.
“I would say it’s more of a compromise,” Richardson said of his proposal to restrict abortions rather than prohibiting them altogether. “Life begins at conception … The thing that I find so disturbing is how hard it is to get some people to understand that you should not be destroying human life.”
The senator said that he believes doctors can pressure women into abortions with the way they portray the fetus as a group of cells, not a growing baby. Richardson said he hoped the mandate to offer women considering abortions the option to see ultrasounds and hear heart tones under The Woman’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act would encourage them to reconsider how they view the fetus.
“If she’s just disposing of a bunch of cells, it’s an easier decision, but when she sees that the baby has a heartbeat and has arms and legs … I think once they realize that, that they change their mind about abortion,” Richardson said.
Best stated that she believed this legislation had different goals than what Richardson claims.
“While claiming to provide women with more information, HB 53/ SB 19 ultimately seeks to dissuade them from exercising their legal and constitutional right to abortion,” she stated. “When the state mandates actions or speech by physicians only in the context of abortion, as HB 53/ SB 19 proposes, it is not about protecting women or increasing the information they are provided. Rather it is about intimidating and shaming people for choosing abortion and questioning a woman’s ability to make the decision that is best for them.”
Richardson denied this, saying that he hopes to offer more information to women with these medical services, not pressure them out of abortions.
“I’m concerned more about the women than I am about the Planned Parenthood organization,” Richardson said. “Planned Parenthood sounds good. We want to make sure that the young people have the information and anything else they have to make very good decisions, like skills decisions. I don’t have anything against part of what Planned Parenthood does, but I think the abortions are just wrong.”
Richardson last tried to limit abortions during the final quarter of the last general assembly, but both of his bills died in committee. He said he thought his late introduction of those bills was a large reason they did not pass, and he hopes the earlier action this year will allow him to spend more time lobbying for them.
Both Richardson and Collins acknowledged the difficulty they will have in pushing legislation that restricts abortions in a predominantly democratic state. Nonetheless, Collins thinks it is his duty to bring up the debate and try to change the way Delawareans see abortions.
“It’s a process,” Collins said. “If it doesn’t pass this year, we will try it again next year. In the end it’s the choice of the voters. They get what they ask for, so if the voters truly think abortion, under any circumstances, right up to the day of birth, is fine, then that’s probably what we’re going to continue to have, but I can at least give the people of Delaware a choice.”