Delaware moves to codify abortion rights in face of Trump threat

Delaware moves to codify abortion rights in face of Trump threat
© Getty Images

Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) will sign legislation in coming days to enshrine abortion rights as state law, a move supporters say is necessary in the face of President Trump’s pledge to appoint judges who will rule against abortion rights.

The state legislature this week passed a measure removing restrictions on abortions from state law. It codifies the right to an abortion for the first time, making Delaware the eighth state to guarantee women the right to seek the procedure even if federal law changes.

State Sen. Bryan Townsend (D), who authored the bill, said the threat to abortion rights at the federal level spurred him to take action.

“There is a real possibility that the federal framework around this is changed in coming years,” Townsend told The Hill. “With the possibility that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade or other case law, we thought it was really important.”

ADVERTISEMENT
A spokesman for Carney said he would sign the bill.

Delaware is the only state this year to take up a version of what abortion rights backers call the Freedom of Choice Act. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada and Washington have already added abortion rights to state law.

Delaware has had a ban on abortions conducted after 20 weeks of conception on the books for decades. But in the 1970s, the state attorney general said the ban was unlikely to succeed in court, and it hasn’t been enforced since.

Anti-abortion rights advocates said the new law would roll back decades of precedent, even while other states embrace bans on abortion after 20 weeks.

“While 20 other states have passed reasonable limits on abortion after five months in the last several years, Delaware is headed backwards,” said Ellen Barrosse, one of Delaware’s representatives to the Republican National Committee.

Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion rights Susan B. Anthony List, said it was notable that pro-abortion rights legislators were suddenly worried about the fate of abortion laws in court.

“Whether in the states or at the federal level, they have always seen the court as a tool they could use to overrule pro-life majorities,” Quigley said in an email.

Pro-abortion rights groups acknowledged that Trump’s promise to appoint abortion foes to judgeships is behind the push to codify Roe v. Wade.

“This is state leaders taking Trump at his word that he intended to be the person who appoints justices who overturn Roe,” said James Owens, a spokesman for the pro-abortion rights group NARAL. “If the Supreme Court isn’t going to defend our rights, then it’s up to state and local leaders to make sure our values are upheld.”

Delaware is likely to be one of the few bright spots for abortion rights backers this year. Owens also pointed to Colorado and Nevada, where legislators passed new laws allowing women to get a year’s worth of birth control at once, rather than just a month at a time.  

But conservative states have rushed to place new restrictions on access. 

The Republican governors of Texas and Missouri said this week they would call their legislators back into special session to deal with anti-abortion legislation. States like Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio have passed bans on abortions after 20 weeks in recent months.