Abortion bills could further strain rural Maryland and Delaware, opponents say – Delmarva Daily Times


Pregnancy center nurse manager Jackie Failla sees more than 100 new clients every year. More than half of them, she said, consider having an abortion.

Failla works for the faith-based Grace Center for Maternal and Women’s Health in Berlin, Maryland, where she receives women from Wicomico and Worcester counties, as well as Sussex County in Delaware.

The center sees women dealing with unintended pregnancy. It does not provide abortions or referrals for abortion services, and encourages adoption as an alternative option.

Some women who visit the center are considering abortion into their third trimester and many struggle with drug addiction or lack of resources, Failla said.

“They’re freaked out,” Failla said. “They’re stuck.”

They’re some of the women who would be affected by proposed legislation related to abortions in Maryland and Delaware. Delmarva lawmakers are pushing some of those bills. One requires providers to report abortions to the state, while another bans the procedure after a certain length of pregnancy.

The proposed policies would affect services across Maryland and Delaware. But some argue the rural Delmarva Peninsula is especially starved of health care options for pregnant women. The Delmarva Peninsula includes southern Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as well as the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

It’s not clear whether the bills, which echo others across the country, have a likelihood of becoming law. Both Delaware and Maryland’s legislative bodies have rejected a number of abortion regulation policies in recent years, including those sponsored by Delmarva lawmakers.

More: Trump administration approves rule to restrict abortion clinic funding

But a recent move from President Donald Trump’s administration to block funding from groups that give abortion referrals, as well as to ban certain organizations from providing abortions, comes just as the latest state bills head to debate. Maryland, Virginia and Delaware joined a multistate lawsuit against the “gag rule,” which some lambaste as a blow to low-income women. 

Some supporters of the bills, backed by anti-abortion lawmakers and advocates, say they promote women’s rights and public health.

“It’s all about women’s rights,” said Delaware state Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, referring to one of those bills.

Opponents of those bills say some could be detrimental to women seeking those services on Delmarva.

“When you have bills based on belief rather than science and health care, those things don’t go well,” said Delaware Planned Parenthood President Ruth Lytle-Barnaby, whose organization opposed similar legislation last session. “You’re working to shame women.”

Wicomico, Worcester lawmakers want state-mandated abortion reporting

One of those bills making its way through Maryland, sponsored by state Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R-38-Worcester, would require certain abortion providers to report abortion-related data to the state health department.

Maryland is only one of three states, along with California and New Hampshire, that do not already track abortion-related information, according to Carozza’s office.

The report would include the patient’s home county; their age, race and marital status; the estimated age of the fetus; the month of the abortion; and the method of the abortion. The form could also ask the primary reason that the woman is seeking the abortion.

The report could not include the name, street address or “any other identifiers” related to the patient or physician. That data would be submitted to the health department’s vital statistics administration, which tracks other public health information, such as birth and death rates.

“My bill would simply require physicians to report abortions to the Maryland Department of Health, just as hysterectomy and other medical procedures are required to be reported,” Carozza said in an emailed statement. “Having accurate reporting will help us strengthen health programs for women, and those at risk for unintended pregnancy.”

Some disagree with the proposal. Maryland Planned Parenthood President Karen Nelson said patients could develop a fear that their confidentiality could be compromised if they are required to report certain information.

“A patient who is coming to Planned Parenthood already faces barriers seeking care,” Nelson said.

However, the organization’s branch in Delaware, where similar information is already reported, sees it differently.

“It’s just a tracking mechanism of what’s going on in your area,” said Lytle-Barnaby. “They do extremely well here in Delaware at masking the individual.”

Delaware’s public health division does not collect information on the reason a woman seeks an abortion in the state.

The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights think tank, generally supports states collecting information about the procedure. The institute says it’s up to the state to decide what information to collect through such reporting, as long as it does not breach confidentiality. 

Elizabeth Nash, who studies state issues for the Guttmacher Institute, said state reporting helps better track pregnancy rates and related health services. But her institute doesn’t support asking women the reason for the abortion — such as rape, lack of resources or “pressure from other individuals” — which Carozza’s bill would allow. Nash said those questions can be “intimidating” for a woman seeking an abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision upheld a woman’s right to have an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus. Maryland and Delaware are among the states that have passed laws asserting those protections if that ruling is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Before switching to the Senate this year, Carozza supported anti-abortion legislation as a Maryland state delegate. She is co-sponsoring multiple anti-abortion bills this session. Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-37-Dorchester, is co-sponsoring Carozza’s bill, which is up for a committee hearing March 15.

Proponents say that health departments benefit from collecting information on abortion, along with other vital statistics, in order to accurately depict public health in the state.

Among the supporters are some Delmarva pregnancy centers.

“We need to know what services are being provided (and) what the needs of the women in our community are,” said Jacquelyn Seldon, executive director of the faith-based Eastern Shore Pregnancy Center in Salisbury.

Seldon, whose services are similar to that of the Grace Center in Berlin, added that the data should not breach confidentiality. Both the Berlin and Salisbury centers have expressed support for Carozza’s bill.

“But abortion is, unfortunately, such a divisive topic right now,” she said.

Access: From abortion providers to OB-GYN to child care 

Some people who work with pregnant women on Delmarva cite trends in unintended pregnancies and abortion.

Like the Berlin center, Seldon’s faith-based group does not provide abortions or referrals for abortion services. But about half of her center’s clients seeking services for unintended pregnancy are considering an abortion, she said.

Abortion-rights advocates argue that abortion providers are also dwindling. Planned Parenthood closed its Salisbury and Rehoboth Beach clinics in 2015 and 2011, respectively. That leaves a drive to Easton or Dover (about 50 and 60 miles from Salisbury, respectively) to reach the closest Planned Parenthood clinic. The Easton location does not perform in-clinic abortions.

The Maryland Eastern Shore does not include any licensed surgical abortion facilities, according to the state health department. 

Delaware state agencies do not have to list abortion providers.

More: Activists shifting abortion debate to focus on human rights

The Berlin and Salisbury centers, which serve teenagers and adults, say their clients considering abortion are often in their 20s and 30s. Those women often consider the procedure due to financial constraints and pressure from their families or partners, but the centers say they’ve recently seen an increase in clients struggling with addiction.

“The opioid epidemic has changed things a lot,” Seldon said. “We may have someone come in who has been using heroin or cocaine, or maybe someone has been in an abusive relationship.

“Many of the women feel backed in a corner, don’t want to choose an abortion,” Seldon added. “But they’re getting pressure from the outside because of the issues, because they may be using.”

When Failla moved from Westminster, Maryland, to the Eastern Shore in 2014, she said she noticed a higher rate of pregnant women struggling with addiction. It prompted the nurse manager to get her degree in addiction counseling, she said. 

“They were coming in and I was like, ‘I don’t have the tools to help these kids,’ ” Failla said. “There’s no resources around here.”

Some at the pregnancy centers, which work with women during and after pregnancy, believe that the peninsula needs more services related to mental health, OB-GYN, transportation, child care and affordable housing.

“Without the intervention of these other services, it’s not going to get better,” said Irene Ruscigo, a grant writer for the Grace Center.

Sussex Republicans trying to limit abortion

In Delaware, lawmakers are once again debating multiple bills meant to curb First State abortion rates.

One bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, echoing a previous state law taken off the books by Democrat-backed legislation in 2017. The other bill requires that physicians offer the patient a chance to see an ultrasound and listen to the fetal heart tone before performing an abortion. Under the latter measure, the patient could choose not to see the ultrasound or listen to the heart tone.

Column: What kind of woman has a late-term abortion? Me

“It gives women all the information that’s available to make a good decision,” said state Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, referring to the latter bill.

The effort, spearheaded by Richardson, is largely backed by fellow Sussex County Republican lawmakers.

Richardson introduced similar bills last year. Neither made it to a floor vote. These bills likewise have to make it out of their committee made of three Democrats and two Republicans.

“If I can persuade one of those Democrats, even if they sign it out unfavorably, at least it will get a full hearing on the floor,” Richardson said.

Anti-abortion lawmakers are also pushing House versions of Richardson’s bills, which are slated for hearings in March. Their lower chamber author, state Rep. Richard Collins, R-Millsboro, hopes the strategy will increase their chances of passing.

Still, the measures likely won’t land on Delaware Gov. John Carney’s desk. Democrats have their largest majority in the General Assembly in a decade, and the party doesn’t appear any warmer to the anti-abortion measures than they have been in years prior.

Should he fail for the second year, Richardson plans to keep trying. He said he might introduce another bill that bans abortions after a later date, such as 26 weeks instead of 20.

Abortion-rights advocates say women might get abortions after 20 weeks because of a fetal anomaly. They may also not be able to afford the procedure — a first-trimester abortion normally costs about $500, said Nash of the Guttmacher Institute — or immediately locate a clinic.

Some abortion-rights advocates cite research that shows most abortions take place within the first 12 weeks, and most providers already perform an ultrasound to prepare for the procedure.

Richardson and Collins have heard these arguments, and believe the bill that would require physicians that offer an ultrasound would deter more abortions than the 20-week ban.

“The main complaint I hear from people who are for abortion is the government shouldn’t tell women what to do with their bodies,” Collins said.

The Salisbury and Berlin faith-based pregnancy centers offer ultrasounds to women who visit their facilities. The majority of women who agree to the ultrasound and who were initially considering an abortion decide to go through with the pregnancy, they said.

“They change their mind almost every time,” said Dori Magee, a volunteer social worker at the Grace Center.

Some abortion-rights advocates argue that ultrasounds aren’t always effective, especially for women who have made their decision prior to the appointment. Those who seek services from pregnancy centers could be more conflicted, they say.

“The efforts to change a patient’s mind are perhaps not as successful as the sponsors want them to be,” Nash said.

Seldon believes that ultrasounds are not the only factor that influences a decision. She said many of her clients also change their minds after receiving emotional support from her center.

“When you feel like your back is against the wall, you just want to have compassion,” Seldon said.

Reporter Sara Swann contributed to this report.

Have a story about Eastern Shore women’s services?

You can email reporter Sarah Gamard at sgamard@delmarvanow.com. You can also call 302-324-7715.

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