Commentary: HB 53 is especially repugnant legislation
Recently, Republicans in the Delaware House of Representatives introduced two bills designed to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Both bills are sponsored by representatives Richard Collins and Bryant Richardson, with eight Republican cosponsors.
It is sadly telling that both bills were introduced by white men. Far too often, men - especially affluent Caucasian men - want a big say in abortion laws to which they will never be subject. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 61.5 percent of abortions are obtained by women of color; 49 percent are obtained by women below the federal poverty level (FPL); and an additional 26 percent are obtained by women at one to two times the FPL. Men’s insistence on making important decisions about women’s access to birth control, reproductive services, and abortions is not about moral outrage. It is about control over women’s bodies, choices, and autonomy.
HB 52 would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks. The sole exception would be for women for whom it is medically determined that continuing the pregnancy puts them “at risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions.” Physicians performing an abortion in violation of the law would face a class D felony and the loss of their medical licenses. Furthermore, the fetus’ father could pursue legal action against the doctor, seeking “actual and punitive damages.”
HB 53 would require physicians to offer pregnant women the opportunity to view ultrasound images and listen to the fetal heartbeat (when applicable) before terminating a pregnancy, except in emergency situations. Although women can refuse the options, physicians cannot refuse to offer them. Women must sign a document stating that they were made the offers. Physicians failing to make the offers would face a class A misdemeanor, and civil malpractice and professional disciplinary action.
HB 52 is unconstitutional, given that a woman’s right to choose was codified in Delaware’s constitution during the last legislative session. Furthermore, the bill’s language supposes that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, which has not been conclusively proven. In fact, although the legislation specifically claims that fetuses experience pain at 20 weeks, it cites no scientific studies or other sources.
Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, over 91 percent of abortions occur at 13 weeks or earlier, with only about 1 percent of abortions performed later than 20 weeks. Of these later abortions, most occur due to extenuating circumstances like the discovery of serious fetal abnormalities or a threat to the mother’s life, or the mother’s lack of access to abortion services earlier in the pregnancy.
HB 53 is especially repugnant legislation, meant to embarrass and shame women seeking abortion services. Women who choose to terminate pregnancies never arrive at the decision lightly. It is an agonizing and very personal one. Also, HB 53 sponsor Representative Collins recently stated, “We think abortion is wrong, just as if you took a kitten or puppy and ripped them apart in front of people.“ Clearly, the short-term goal of both bills is to erode women’s access to safe and legal abortions, with an end goal of banning abortion completely.
Rep. Richardson disingenuously says he “hopes to offer more information to women...not pressure them out of medical services.“ But as Sarah Best, the public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of Delaware, recently stated: “When the state mandates actions or speech by physicians only in the context of abortion...it is not about protecting women or increasing the information they are provided. Rather, it is about intimidating and shaming people for choosing abortion, and questioning a woman’s ability to make the decision that is best for them.“
Republican lawmakers introducing and supporting these two bills know they are bound for failure, especially given the Senate’s Democratic majority and the House’s Democratic supermajority. Introducing these bills is Republican political grandstanding and appealing to the conservative party base, particularly since the bills stand no chance of passage should they even make it out of committee. In fact, similar and identical bills have failed in past years, as recently as 2018.
Personally, I hope both bills move out of committee and onto the floor for full votes. Especially with 15 new faces across the two chambers, we deserve to know where our state legislators stand on protecting women’s reproductive rights. Sadly, we cannot count on all Democrats to support such a basic tenet of the party platform. After last year‘s debate on SB 5, ensuring a woman’s right to choose should Roe v. Wade be overturned, veteran Democratic representatives Earl Jaques and Gerald Brady both voted against it.
We cannot go backwards on women’s reproductive rights. Not now. Not ever.
Eric Morrison is a Steering Committee member of Delaware United, and a local progressive political activist.