The Delaware Senate Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee on April 5 discussed a house bill that would increase the number of people allowed to prescribe chemical abortion-inducing drugs, a practice now restricted in Delaware to physicians. The committee did not vote on whether to send House Bill 320 to the full senate.
Susan Conaty-Buck, representing the state’s nurse practitioners, testified at the virtual meeting that data shows the majority of women choose chemical abortions, and there is no evidence of long-term risk if the medication is used properly. She said requiring patients to see a physician to get this medication is a hindrance, particularly in Kent and Sussex counties, pushing some women to seek surgical abortions. Those pose more risk, she said.
According to the legislation, the federal government allows healthcare providers, including physicians’ assistants and advanced practice registered nurses, to prescribe this medication.
Among those speaking in opposition to HB320 were Nandi Randolph, policy analyst of the Delaware Family Policy Council, and Joseph Fitzgerald, a lobbyist for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. Randolph said too many questions about the safety of non-physicians prescribing medication remain. Fitzgerald reiterated the Diocese of Wilmington and the Catholic Church remain opposed to any expansion of abortion rights.
House Committee member Rep. Richard G. Collins, a Republican, spoke out against the bill at a hearing last month.
“I cannot understand the dispassion behind abortion,” Collins said. “I just wish somebody can explain to me, in a moral way, why we do these things.”
The senators sponsoring HB320 are Kyle Evans Gay, Bryan Townsend, Sarah McBride and Laura Sturgeon. And Stephanie Hansen, David Sokola and Trey Paradee are co-sponsors.
Conaty-Buck urged the committee to approve the legislation to allow physicians’ assistants and advanced-practice registered nurses to provide care “consistent with other care they can provide and do provide.”
The committee is chaired by Gay, a Democrat. The other Democrats on the panel are McBride and Hansen. The two Republicans are Brian Pettyjohn and Bryant Richardson. The two Republican members were not at the committee meeting.
HB320, sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan, passed the house on March 24 by a 25-15 vote, with one representative absent. That vote was strictly along party lines. If heard and passed by the senate, it would then head to Gov. John Carney. His spokesman has indicated that the governor is following the debate in the General Assembly and would not have any other comment.
Gay said the bill would not require any medical professional to provide this care. Conaty-Buck stressed that medical professionals in schools would not prescribe the medication, and there are no plans to add this service to school clinics.
The issue, Conaty-Buck said, is that abortifacients are “removed from their scope of practice for no good reason. We don’t want to have our patients in Delaware be unable to receive top-notch care.”
McBride also framed the legislation as “a straight-up scope-of-practice bill” that would make policies across the field more consistent. She urged senators to remove ideology from the conversation.
“We should look at the parity this is providing,” she said.
The meeting drew about a dozen public comments, most urging passage of the legislation. It included representatives from the Delaware chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Planned Parenthood of Delaware, the Delaware Academy of Physicians Assistants, and the Delaware chapter of the National Organization of Women.
Ruth Lytle-Barnaby of Planned Parenthood said the average wait to see a doctor in Delaware with whom a patient does not have a relationship is 24 days. That wait is longer in Kent and Sussex counties.
“This is not taken lightly, but it falls within the scope of practice,” she told the committee.
The bill originally was assigned to the senate Health and Social Services Committee but was reassigned to the oversight committee.
Kerry Gregory, speaking on behalf of the Delaware Academy of Physicians Assistants, said they are licensed medical providers who are allowed to prescribe medication in every field in which they are licensed. She said the shortage of medical professionals also speaks to the need for this bill to become law.
The Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee did not take a vote on whether to advance the bill before adjourning the meeting. Attempts to find out when a vote would be held were unsuccessful.