Late-term abortion, ultrasound bills in committees

Action needed to move legislation on
March 18, 2019

Two bills related to abortion heard by a Senate committee have yet to be acted on as required in order to be considered by the full Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, one is similar to a pain-capable unborn child protection bill introduced last session which died in committee. The bill would make late-term abortions, those done after 20 weeks, illegal with penalties against doctors who perform them. Anyone who intentionally or recklessly performs an abortion in violation of the act would be guilty of a class D felony. Under the bill, an exception would be made in cases where a woman's life is in danger or there is a threat of irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.

On March 6, medical professionals both for and against the bill testified and more than 100 people attended a hearing held in Senate chambers.

Sheila Page, an associate with the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Virginia and a board-certified neuromusculoskeletal doctor, said pain perception is a function of the lower brain cells as early as 10 weeks. “Science cannot tell us if it's right or wrong to destroy life,” she said.

Catherine Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life in Virginia, said abortion carries a higher medical risk when performed later in pregnancy. “Gestational age is the strongest risk factor for abortion-related mortality, and the incidence of major complications is significantly higher after 20 weeks' gestation,” she said.

Testifying against the bill, Ruth Lytle-Barnaby, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Delaware, said each pregnancy is unique, and women need support, not additional laws.

“Woman in consultation with their physician must be able to evaluate all appropriate treatments and make informed choices about what is best for their health and their pregnancy,” she said.

Margaret Chou, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, said she believes the legislation is based on a false premise and the bill undermines the patient/physician relationship.

“Many circumstances exist in which a woman would need to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks. Her decision should be based on individual circumstances and personal beliefs without interference from politicians,” she said. “The real intent of SB 21 is to take the decision away from women and their providers about abortion … each decision is incredibly personal and individualized, and best made without the intrusion of the state.”

Richardson's Senate Bill 19 would require doctors to offer an ultrasound to all women seeking an abortion. Medical providers who do not would face a misdemeanor charge. The bill also awaits action by the Senate Sunset Committee, which circulated the bills for signatures following the hearing. Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, who sits on the committee, said he had not seen the bills as of March 13.

Both of Richardson's bills are identical to two House bills introduced in January by Rep. Richard Collins, R-Millsboro, which await action in the House Health & Human Development committee. Collins said his ultrasound bill should be heard by the end of the month.

“I would like the ultrasound bill first because it does not impact a woman's rights and is less controversial,” he said.

Collins said he understands Planned Parenthood already offers ultrasounds to women who use a Planned Parenthood facility, but he would like an expert to testify and verify the information. Collins said he believes the ultrasound bill is more likely to preserve life, since there are few late-term abortions each year.

The Centers for Disease Control reports there were 638,169 legal abortions in 2015 – the most recent data available – and 1.3 percent were late-term abortions performed after 20 weeks.

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