DOVER — With Senate approval Thursday, Delaware’s lawmakers are poised to expand access to medication abortions as other states are moving toward further restrictions.
House Bill 320 passed by a 14 to 7 vote along party lines and would allow physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to prescribe abortion medications.
Mifeprex, mifepristone and misoprostol are medications that block progesterone and can end pregnancies that are less than 10 weeks along. The FDA approved Mifeprex in 2000, and in 2019, the generic version of Mifeprex, mifepristone, was also approved. In 2016, the FDA prompted Mifeprex and mifepristone users to follow up their dosage with misopristol to prevent any side effects from the abortion medication.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Talleyville, and Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark.
Sen. Gay applauded her colleagues in the Senate for considering the bill and emphasized the importance of the legislation for reproductive rights in Delaware.
“Nineteen other states plus D.C. permit these providers to prescribe medication for the termination of pregnancy and studies show that safety has not been diminished,” Sen. Gay said.
“As waiting times to see physicians continue to grow, expanding access to critical reproductive health will mean that more Delawareans get the care they need when they need it.”
During the legislative session, Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, raised a question as to whether physician assistants and APRNs that work in school nursing facilities would have the authority to prescribe these medications. Sen. Gay assured him that this was not the intent of the bill.
“This bill does not affect age, the consent or the rights of any person seeking an abortion. This bill merely changes who can provide medication in order to induce the termination of pregnancy,” Sen. Gay said.
Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, also had concerns regarding who would be able to prescribe this medication. He questioned if the legislation would allow certified registered nurses or licensed practical nurses to prescribe the medication. Sen. Gay said the the bill would not grant permission to any additional medical professionals.
Previous state code allowed only qualified physicians to prescribe abortion medication, despite the fact physician assistants and APRNs have the proper training and the authority to prescribe most medications.
This bill comes as legislatures across the country have restricted abortion access, including the Supreme Court’s potential nullification of Roe v. Wade. Though reproductive rights have been threatened in other states, Sen. Gay assured the senators this legislation would not be affected.
“Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, it does not mean that abortion itself is illegal. It would mean that it would not have a protection under the Constitution and would have to be codified state by state, which we have already done. So, if anything happens with Roe v. Wade, it would not have an impact in Delaware or on this legislation,” Sen. Gay said.
Currently eight states have unenforced bans on abortion that were passed before Roe v. Wade in 1973, according to an Associated Press report. Under these laws, using any instrument or any substance with the intent to “procure a miscarriage” is a felony, with the only exception being if the abortion would preserve a mother’s life. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin are the states with these laws, and should Roe v. Wade be overturned, these states could reenact these previous laws, the report said.
HB 320 was a collaborative effort between Rep. Heffernan, Sen. Gay and Sen. Townsend, who applauded his colleagues for passing the measure to expand reproductive health for Delawareans.
“Women deserve access to comprehensive medical care, which includes access to safe abortions,” said Sen. Townsend in a Thursday press release.
“In 2017, I sponsored the bill to codify Roe v. Wade in Delaware. This was a major accomplishment in the fight to protect women’s rights, but we always knew there was more to do. House Bill 320 will allow physicians assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to prescribe medication to terminate a pregnancy. The right to a safe abortion is meaningless if we cannot guarantee access to everyone.”
The legislation is now ready for the governor’s action and will be sent to Gov. John Carney’s desk to be signed into effect.
Upon his signature, Delaware will become one of 19 states and the District of Columbia to permit physician assistants and APRNs to prescribe abortion medications.