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Editorial: Abortion rights under attack, again

When last we saw Ovide Lamontagne on the public stage, it was Election Night 2012, when he lost the race for governor to Maggie Hassan. This week, Lamontagne is again making news, this time for a column in the conservative publication The Daily Caller with this provocative headline: “Abortion puts women at risk, and it’s the government’s job to protect them.”

Why, Lamontagne asks, “do abortion providers insist on operating their risky business in the shadows of mainstream health care, fighting common-sense regulations? The simple answer is economics. Abortion providers generate profits when they lower their costs by subjecting women to substandard care.”

That sort of language did not create electoral success for Lamontagne in New Hampshire, but the sentiment – along with the legislation he is proposing for states across the country – has picked up momentum. That’s why New Hampshire voters who ultimately rejected Lamontagne’s brand of anti-abortion conservatism would be wise to pay close attention not just to the national debate but also to the under-the-radar legislation percolating here at home.

Among the measures that Lamontagne is promoting as general counsel for the national anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life: new regulatory requirements for abortion providers and the prohibition of abortions after five months because of “the harms to women’s health caused by these late-term abortions and on the pain suffered by her unborn child.”

In New Hampshire, a bill with 10 House sponsors would require burdensome state licensing for outpatient abortion clinics, such as the Feminist Health Center in Concord. A second piece of legislation would declare that life begins at conception.

In the four decades since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized most abortions, the pendulum has swung back and forth as anti-abortion activists have tried, with some successes and some failures, to chip away at that right. But in the past few years, their successes have mounted rapidly. New state-level restrictions have shuttered some clinics. Others exist under a similar threat. And abortions have become much more difficult to obtain in some parts of the country.

Just this week a federal appeals court heard arguments on a Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – a measure that has closed one-third of the state’s abortion clinics. North Dakota and Arkansas have passed laws banning early abortions that were rightly rejected by federal courts. But in nine states, bans on abortion at 20 weeks remain in effect. South Dakota recently passed a law that could force women to wait as long as six days between visiting a clinic and actually receiving an abortion. In fact, last year alone, 22 states adopted 70 restrictions, including late-term abortion bans, new regulations on doctors, clinics and procedures and bans on insurance coverage, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

The result: The ability of women to get the care they need in a timely, affordable manner – close to home and without harassment – depends on where they live. That’s the very problem the Supreme Court hoped to solve back in 1973.

Over the past 40 years New Hampshire has largely resisted attempts to insert the government between women and their health-care providers. But activity across the rest of the country and from Lamontagne’s organization is evidence that vigilance – during election campaigns and while the Legislature is in session – remains imperative.

(This editorial was updated on Jan. 9 to account for Ovide Lamontagne’s 2012 campaign for governor.)

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