Delaware’s senate passed House Bill 320 on April 7 along party lines, and the legislation that would expand the ability to prescribe abortion-inducing medication beyond physicians now heads to Gov. John Carney.
Carney has not indicated whether he will sign the legislation. He could sign the bill into law, veto the bill or let it become law without his signature. A veto requires a three-fifths majority to be overridden, margins that were reached in both the house and senate.
The bill passed the senate with all 14 Democrats voting in favor and seven Republicans opposed. The roll call came after about 30 minutes of discussion. That followed a senate committee hearing on April 5.
The Delaware Catholic Action Network had encouraged Catholics and others to contact their senators and ask them to vote in opposition.
“Consistent with the Church’s fundamental belief in the sanctity of life, we oppose House Bill 320 and any legislation that would further promote access to abortion,” the DCAN wrote.
Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, the Democrat who was the primary senate sponsor, told the body as the legislation was introduced that it is a scope-of-practice bill that would bring Delaware in line with the 19 other states and the District of Columbia by allowing physicians’ assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to prescribe Mifeprestone, Misoprostol and Mifeprex, which terminate a pregnancy without the need for surgery. Studies show the medication is safe, she said.
Republican Sen. Bryant Richardson said few bills come before the senate “that cause me to lose sleep. We’re talking about a bill to end human life. I think as a society we ought to do better than that.”
He said there are risks involved with this medication, which is one reason why only physicians should be able to administer it. Those risks include bleeding, stomach and uterine cramps, lower potassium and severe allergic reactions, he said. Medical abortions, he continued, are more likely than surgical abortions to end up with a visit to the emergency room.
Richardson also read a letter from diocesan lobbyist Joseph Fitzgerald that outlined the Diocese of Wilmington’s objection to the bill and to abortion itself. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are opposed to any efforts to expand abortion access, he has said.
“I’m sure that a big part of that is just because of the risk,” Richardson said.
“There is more that I could say, but I don’t think I’m going to change any hearts or minds,” Richardson said. He suggested to his fellow senators that they instead find ways to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies.
He asked Gay how risk would be handled. Gay said HB320 has “no bearing on medical malpractice responsibility.”
Senator Colin Bonini, a Republican from Dover, wanted to know whether these medications could be prescribed in school health clinics. Gay said she stood by her previous comments that these clinics would not be covered under the bill. She said availability in schools would be a separate discussion.
Another Republican senator, Dave Lawson, asked if medical professionals would be required to prescribe abortifacients, or if authority to do so would be expanded to any other “quasi-professionals.”
Gay took exception to the use of the term “quasi-professionals” and noted that some have doctoral degrees to go along with professional training. They already have the ability to prescribe a range of medications. Under HB320, the ability to prescribe these medications would not be expanded further to nurse practitioners and midwives, for example.
Lawson said he didn’t see a redemptive purpose to the bill.
“We have passed laws in this country that I would say are not good,” he said. “When a life is taken, whether you can see it or not, it’s still a life.”
Gay, an attorney, reminded her fellow senators that even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that would not make abortion go away. The decision on whether to allow abortions would revert to the states, and Delaware has codified the right to terminate a pregnancy into state law.