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Buckson criticizes maternal bill for dropping term ‘woman’

Sam HautGovernment, Headlines

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Senate committee considers bill that would change the word women in maternal health code.

Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, had issues Wednesday with a maternal health bill changing the words “woman” and “women” to “person” and “people.”

Senate Bill 106, sponsored by Sen. Kyle Gay, D-Elsmere, would replace those words in the Delaware code on maternal health and also change the term maternal depression to perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.

These changes would apply to the part of the Delaware code that deals with maternal health, which specifies who receives informational materials on maternal health, including depression that can occur during and after pregnancy.

During the Senate Health & Social Services Committee meeting, Buckson asked if, as a father of four, the bill as written would include him in spaces meant for expectant mothers.

“Sen.Buckson, I don’t want to make any assumptions about your personhood,” Gay said. “I know that you identify as male and have presented as such to me and asked me to use he him pronouns with you.

”However, if you are neither in the pregnancy stage and you are neither carrying a baby, or if you are not postpartum, then my understanding of the language of this bill is that it would not apply to you.”

Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, said that she doesn’t understand Buckson’s concern with the bill, as she feels it will only help people.

Buckson said that he takes issue with changing the word women to person.

“It is when you strike out and then simply add person” Buckson said. “In the language we adopted, I believe, was it yesterday or last week, whatever it was, where we did these gender silencing bills. In the language of that law, it said specifically, except when obvious, or something like that. And for me, this is obvious. A person giving birth is a woman. We shouldn’t strike that out.”

On May 4, the Senate passed 19 to 1 Senate Bill 97, which would make the Delaware code gender silent and replace references to gender with language that doesn’t mention gender. 

Senate Bill 97 states that “The Revisors… shall ensure a solely masculine or feminine designation occurs only when it applies to one gender.”

Buckson voted for Senate Bill 97, which now heads to the House.

Related Story: Draft bill would strike all references to gender in state law

Gay said that the gender silent legislation wouldn’t apply to Senate Bill 106, as the change was made to make the Delaware code more inclusive.

“I do think that referencing the gender silent legislation, this is a situation where we feel appropriate outside of that initiative to make sure that we are capturing as many people who may suffer from PNDS,” Gay said. “And so the initial idea here was…to make sure that we were capturing non birthing parents and birthing parents who do not identify as women.”

Gay said that she is considering a substitute to Senate Bill 106 that would change one instance of the word women that was missed, and include everyone both before and after pregnancy, and not just people presenting symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.

During public comments, six representatives for healthcare organizations spoke in support of the bill, with only perennial General Assembly public commenter Robert Overmiller speaking against the bill because it removes the word women.

Kristen Dwyer, the external affairs manager for Nemours Children’s Health, said that they support the bill because it helps caregivers with raising children.

“Ensuring that there is clear educational information provided in a consistent manner around maternal mental health care and mood disorders is an important step for caregivers of getting the support they need,” Dwyer said. “Caregivers who experienced perinatal mood disorders understandably can have a difficult time parenting.”

Laura Najemy, a board member of the Delaware chapter of Postpartum Support International, said she supports the bill because when she was pregnant, she wished she knew about postpartum anxiety.

“Had I been screened and received treatment earlier, I could have avoided months and months of suffering and medical complications,” Najemy said. “And my story is far from unique. That is why this bill is so important for families in Delaware. And I ask that you support it because it allows us to have information that will hopefully lead to treatment being obtained faster.”

The bill has 18 additional sponsors and cosponsors, 16 of which are Democrats and two Republicans, Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, and Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Milford/Bridgeville.

A fiscal note for the bill is not required.

Because Senate committees do not take public votes, the outcome of SB 106 was unclear early Wednesday afternoon. The Senate allows committee members to sign the backs of bills and reports the tally later on the bill tracking system.

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