(DOVER, Del.) — As the battle over abortion rights continues to spread from Washington to state capitals, Delaware lawmakers have taken the lead in ensuring that abortion remains legal if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.
The state House on Tuesday gave final approval to a bill eliminating restrictions on abortion in current Delaware law, which has remained on the books despite being superseded for decades by federal law.
Democratic Gov. John Carney said he will sign the measure, for which Planned Parenthood lobbied.
Passage of the bill comes as similar attempts in other Democratic-leaning states to codify abortion rights have stalled.
In Connecticut, which already has a “legislative declaration” protecting a woman’s right to choose abortion, a bill did not get out of committee. A measure in New Mexico to decriminalize abortion by statute also failed to get a floor vote.
In Rhode Island, bills seeking to codify abortion rights have been held for further study.
In New York, a measure protecting abortion access in the event that federal restrictions arise passed the Democratic-led Assembly but has yet to be considered in the Republican-led Senate.
Meanwhile, Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has threatened to veto legislation that strikes language in current Illinois statute indicating the state’s intent to criminalize abortion except to preserve the life of the mother if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. The bill also would expand abortion coverage to state workers and Medicaid recipients.
In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, recently confirmed as ambassador to China, signed a bill last month banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Tennessee’s Republican governor also has signed a strict ban on late-term abortions. Similar laws are in effect in at least a dozen other states, and President Donald Trump has promised to sign a federal 20-week ban if it gets through Congress.
Delaware’s current law allows abortions only if the mother’s health is at risk, if there is a substantial risk the child would be born with serious disabilities, or if pregnancy results from rape or incest.
The law also prohibits abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires parental consent for girls under 18. It requires a woman to provide written consent and wait 24 hours after receiving a full explanation of the abortion procedure and effects, the facts of fetal development, and an explanation of reasonable alternatives.
The legislation approved Tuesday removes those restrictions and allows abortion without restriction before a fetus reaches viability. It defines viability as the point in a pregnancy when, in a doctor’s “good faith medical judgment,” there is a reasonable likelihood that the fetus can survive outside the uterus without “extraordinary medical measures.”
The bill also allows abortion after viability if a doctor determines that an abortion is necessary to protect the woman’s life or health, or that the baby is not likely to survive without extraordinary medical measures. That provision led critics to say the bill opens the way to late-term abortions.
In introducing an unsuccessful amendment to prohibit abortion after 20 weeks, Rep. Timothy Dukes, R-Laurel, described a late-term abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, in which a fetus is dismembered and removed from the womb.
“The methodology of the actual medical procedure is not germane to the bill,” interjected Rep. Sean Lynn, a Dover Democrat.
“Yes it is!” some abortion opponents cried from the gallery, drawing a loud gavel and sharp rebuke from House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, who threatened to clear the chamber.