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State lawmakers to consider additional protections for reproductive health care providers, seekers

Delaware Public Media

State Democratic lawmakers aim to protect people seeking, assisting with and providing abortions in Delaware as the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn its 50-year-old ruling in Roe v. Wade.

State Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown’s (D-New Castle) new bill would add physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners to the list of medical professionals who can provide procedural abortions. Planned Parenthood of Delaware President Ruth Lytle-Barnaby says the shift would better reflect the providers’ qualifications and help respond to a possible increase in out-of-state residents seeking services in Delaware. “Their education and training has made them quite able to provide this care," she said, "and so when you pair all of that up with demanding need for access, because of what's going on with Roe across the country, it's a nice way to meet needs, but it also fits within their scope of practice.”

The bill also contains a half-dozen protections for abortion providers and seekers who could be targets of litigation and prosecution in states that outlaw abortion. They include shielding abortion providers and seekers from civil suits filed in other states, new protections for medical records of people receiving abortions in Delaware and prohibiting insurance companies from increasing premiums or otherwise punishing healthcare providers who conduct abortions.

“As a nurse, I’ve cared for and comforted women from all walks of life in need of help," said Minor-Brown. "Let’s be clear, women have a right to privacy when it comes to their own bodies and providers have a right to provide quality care to their patients without interference."

The bill’s senate sponsor, Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville), says the bill would also protect some people from extradition on charges related to ending a pregnancy.

“Essentially, a Texas court couldn’t reach into Delaware to, say, charge a physician who had assisted someone or who had performed an abortion," she said.

The bill is based on similar legislation passed in Connecticut this year; Washington state also passed protections for abortion providers this year.

Gay says this is a way to prepare for possible inter-state legal battles that could ensue if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

“We are in unprecedented times," she said. "We have Texas, which instigated a law that would purport to provide every single person a private right of action against those individuals who seek or assist people seeking necessary reproductive health care.”

Lytle-Barnaby noted, however, that some of the legal challenges that lay ahead could be hard to predict. "We have every reason to believe that even if this passes, there will still be legal challenges," she said. "We can say what this intends to do, but how things get interpreted is well beyond what we are able to know."

The bill is based on similar legislation passed in Connecticut this year. Washington state also passed protections for abortion providers this year. Delaware lawmakers will consider the bill in committee later this month.

Meanwhile, State Senate lawmakers heard arguments on a 20-week abortion ban in committee on Tuesday morning.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.