Seaford, Del., backtracks on abortion ordinance to stave off lawsuit threat

The Seaford City Council voted to stop enforcement of an ordinance requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion or miscarriage.

 Hospital room (via ShutterStock)

Hospital room (via ShutterStock)

Just two weeks after the Seaford City Council voted on a bill requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated after an abortion or miscarriage, the ordinance is on hold.

The Dec. 14 vote was met with threats of lawsuits from Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings and the American Civil Liberties Union. Council members voted 3-2 in favor of the measure, despite those threats.

On Dec. 30, council members put a halt on enforcing the bill in hopes of preventing those lawsuits from moving forward. Councilman Matthew McCoy, who voted for the original ordinance, made the motion to put a stay on its enforcement.

“We’re not ruling on the order itself, but a pathway forward,” McCoy said. “This decision and other decisions should be made by representation and not in a courtroom via litigation.”

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The ACLU of Delaware, which had been threatening litigation against the city, said in a statement posted online that the group was pleased with the stay.

“The Seaford ordinance saga has made it abundantly clear that Delaware is willing to show up and make noise when lawmakers attempt to restrict our right to abortion access,” the ACLU said. It remains prepared to fight to make sure the ordinance is never enforced.

Seaford Councilman James King was one of two to vote against the original ordinance.

“This ordinance, in my opinion, is a complete waste of time, energy and resources. We are having conversations around something, in my opinion, that is completely illegal. I feel that this ordinance is illegal, unconstitutional, and is a violation of civil rights,” King said.

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He voted to stay the ordinance from being implemented, but said that wasn’t enough.

“I feel the stay in enforcement is just a stall tactic to delay the inevitable. I feel that this ordinance is a complete overreach of government, nothing more than grandstanding and posturing,” King said.

Even though enforcement of the ordinance is on hold, the debate may not be over.

“The stay can be lifted at any time the council chooses,” said Seaford Mayor David Genshaw.

In 2017, Delaware lawmakers officially passed a law to protect abortion access, protecting those rights even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

It’s not clear whether state lawmakers will move to prevent local municipalities such as Seaford from enacting similar ordinances restricting abortion in the future.

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