Doubling down on abortion rights: Delaware protects records of patients from other states

The measure is a strategic counterpunch to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has taken away the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

Rep. Minor-Brown talks into a microphone, as someone else behind her holds a megaphone in the air.

State Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown (left) and Delaware NOW president Melissa Froemming rally for abortion rights in 2021 in Wilmington's Rodney Square. (Courtesy of Minor-Brown}

“Every barrier that they put up, we’re going to create another pathway for women,’’ says Delaware state Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown. “That’s how we fight back. We don’t have time to cry. We’ve got work to do.”

Minor-Brown is a nurse and the architect of a bill, which the General Assembly passed this week, that expands the state’s pool of abortion providers and protects the health records of people who trek to her state from others that have restrictive abortion laws.

Minor-Brown’s trumpeting of her legislative victory contrasts sharply with the view of Moira Sheridan, president of Delaware Right to Life.

“It’s a tragedy for the state of Delaware. It’s very clear that they want to make Delaware a death destination, you know, celebrating the abilities of mothers to kill their own children,” Sheridan said.

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Those opposing sentiments have reverberated around the state in the days since Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abortion was no longer a constitutional right in America. The 6-3 decision overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that for a half-century has generally protected the right to terminate a pregnancy.

Gov. Carney has pledged to sign the bill that was sponsored by Minor-Brown and Sen. Kyle Evans Gay. The bill:

  • Allows physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, and midwives to perform abortions.
  • Forbids the release of abortion medical records of patients from other states, even those subpoenaed by a court.
  • Protects people from extradition to other states for criminal charges related to abortions.
  • Clarifies that medical professionals in Delaware are not subject to other states’ abortion provider regulations.

In 2020, the most recent year for which state health statistics are available, 2,281 abortions were performed in Delaware — 2,009 to Delaware residents and 272 to non-residents.

The new provisions strengthen a 2017 Delaware law that permits “the termination of a pregnancy prior to viability, to protect the life or health of the mother, or in the event of serious fetal anomaly.”

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Beyond the bill that passed this week, supporters of abortion rights in Delaware have taken two additional steps.

Sen. Gay introduced a state constitutional amendment to guarantee access to abortion. Her proposal asserts that “the right to personal reproductive autonomy is fundamental to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and may not be directly or indirectly denied, burdened, or abridged unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

Gay acknowledged the bill doesn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to pass both the Senate and House in the legislative session that ends Thursday night, but said it will be a priority for her when lawmakers reconvene in January.

The amendment would need passage by two successive two-year sessions of the General Assembly. That means that should it succeed, the earliest it could take effect is January 2025.

In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware announced the establishment of the First State Abortion Fund. The fund will be overseen by volunteers and aims to help residents pay for abortions, which its website says averages $515. The money raised would help those in need pay for the procedure as well as child care, transportation, and meal costs.

“We invite every person who was appalled by the U.S. Supreme Court decision to join us,’’ said fund board member Rebecca Lowe, “and donate to pay for abortion care for those who need it.”

Rep. Minor-Brown: ‘Stop everything and get it done now’

Minor-Brown, a New Castle-area Democrat, said she decided to launch her strategic counterpunch when the pending high court decision was leaked on May 2.

Her bill was introduced in the House on June 2, and sailed through the Democrat-controlled legislature, with no Democrats voting against it. Of the 22 House and Senate Republicans, only Sen. Ernie Lopez of Lewes, who is not seeking re-election in November, supported the bill.

Minor-Brown said she had already been contemplating strengthening Delaware’s right to abortion statue.

“But once that leak happened, I was like, ‘Nope, stop everything and get it done now.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I was like, we have to make sure that Delaware has the necessary protection for our Delaware clinicians,’’ she said.

“We need to make sure that we expand access to reproductive health services, and we need to make sure that we are showing we are good neighbors to states that are not going to provide this access to women, so that women can come to Delaware to get their reproductive health services.”

Melissa Froemming, president of Delaware’s National Organization for Women chapter, applauds lawmakers for expanding the provider pool and protecting practitioners and those from out of state who come to Delaware for an abortion.

“We already have a capacity issue,’’ Froemming said. “There’s already wait lines or wait times for people who are trying to access abortion in Delaware. And so it was critical that we expand the number of qualified providers who can provide abortion care.”

As for out-of-staters coming to Delaware for the procedure, Froemming said Delaware will now protect them from “crazy laws that are happening in other states, where people can go to jail for providing an abortion and having having that procedure done.”

“That’s important because we want to make sure that women understand that if they come here, their right to privacy will be honored and that we’re a safe haven for women that are seeking abortion.”

The main provider in Delaware is currently Planned Parenthood, which has clinics in Wilmington, Dover, and Seaford.

“We are preparing for a surge of patients who in some cases will be coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away,” CEO Ruth Lytle-Barnaby said. “We are hiring new staff and anticipate expanding hours to meet the demand and ensure no one is turned away.”

‘Makes you wonder at the rabid desire’ to expand abortion

Sheridan of Delaware Right to Life is a regular demonstrator outside Planned Parenthood’s health clinic in downtown Wilmington and is distressed that even more abortions will likely take place there.

She said the strengthening of Delaware’s abortion statute has eviscerated the “joy in the pro-life world’’ that she and other advocates were feeling after Friday’s decision from Washington, D.C.

She complained that the bill “was rammed through” the General Assembly in barely three weeks.

“It just makes you wonder at the rabid desire for so many people in the state legislature to expand abortion just so far beyond Roe v. Wade,’’ Sheridan said. “It’s flummoxing.”

People stand in green grass on the side of a road holding signs.
Abortion opponents demonstrate against a Planned Parenthood facility that opened last year in Seaford. (Courtesy of Moira Sheridan)

She called the legislative proponents “anti-child people” and didn’t relent when it was pointed out that Minor-Brown, Gay and other lawmakers who approved the measure are mothers themselves.

“They want to make it legal to kill the child in their own womb,’’ she said, emphasizing every word. “And they may be mothers, they may be health care professionals, but they have an agenda.”

Sheridan also chafed at the addition of midwives to the provider pool.

“Are you kidding me? Midwives,’’ she said. “What are they known for there? For assisting in childbirth. And now you want them to kill the child. It’s despicable, is what it is.”

Opponents in the Senate denounced the measure before Wednesday’s decisive 15-6 vote.

“My heart aches,’’ Dover-area Republican Sen. Colin Bonini said. “I know this is probably going to pass on a partisan vote. And we’re going to be the abortion destination in the East Coast. And I guess my question is, ‘Is that really what we want?’”

Sen. Bryant Richardson, a Republican from the Laurel area in southwest Sussex County, said he was “very saddened” by the new provisions.

“Health care should not include the taking of innocent human life,’’ he said. “To think that we have to eliminate generations of people in the name of choice.”

But Sen. Gay was prepared for the bill’s adversaries.

“Choice is the word we use for the decisions that women make about their bodies. But freedom and liberty may be more appropriate,’’ Gay countered.

“The Supreme Court told half of America on Friday that they do not have the equal right to determine their own destiny. And then when it comes to reproductive health, the state will decide. This bill pushes back on that conception.”

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