Gubernatorial candidate Marchand calls for public funding of abortion in N.H.

  • Surrounded by some demonstrators on both sides of the abortion rights issue at city hall in Nashua on Tuesday, July 3, 2018, Democratic candidate for governor Steve Marchand proposes a plan that he says will expand reproductive rights for women in New Hampshire. PAUL STEINHAUSER / For the Monitor

  • With President Donald Trump set to nominate a replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, New Hampshire Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly has discussed abortion rights as a critical issue in her campaign. monitor file

For the Monitor
Published: 7/3/2018 2:42:04 PM

Surrounded by demonstrators on both sides of the abortion rights debate, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand on Tuesday unveiled three proposals that he said would defend women’s reproductive rights in New Hampshire.

“I am proposing today that New Hampshire join other states in explicitly and expansively codifying the right to safely have an abortion,” said the former Portsmouth mayor who’s making his second straight bid for the corner office.

“We need to publicly fund abortion services. Period,” Marchand flatly stated. “New Hampshire should join the 17 other states which currently cover abortion as part of Medicaid.”

Marchand joined the other Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former state senator Molly Kelly of Harrisville, in holding an event to highlight the combustible issue in the wake of last Wednesday’s retirement announcement by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

With Kennedy’s retirement giving Republican President Donald Trump a prime opportunity to replace the crucial swing vote on the high court with a reliably conservative justice, many supporters of women’s reproductive rights fear that the justices may overturn the landmark 1973 decision that constitutionally protected a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Roe v. Wade could be threatened,” Kelly warned last Thursday as she vowed if elected to “work with governors across the country to make sure that women’s rights are protected.”

In the week since Kennedy’s retirement announcement, both Kelly and Marchand have been highlighting the issue. While concerns over abortion rights serve as another wake-up call for an already energized Democratic base, Republicans question whether the issue will resonate with general election voters in November.

Noting that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has publicly said he supports abortion rights, veteran GOP strategist and former state attorney general Tom Rath argued that “in a general election I don’t think it can be used as a distinguishing issue with Sununu.”

At their first face-to-face forum Saturday, Marchand vowed “100 percent protection of a woman’s right to make her own decisions.”

And Kelly said that in the wake of the Kennedy retirement, protecting women’s reproductive rights was the top priority and most critical issue in the gubernatorial campaign.

She also asserted that “there is no one running in this office for governor who has fought harder, been an advocate, and worked every single day to make sure that women have access to safe and legal abortions” than she has.

Asked Tuesday about her claim, Marchand told the Monitor, “I’m not here to question Sen. Kelly’s positions on this issue.”

But he added, “I want to be crystal-clear about where I’m at and not just about what one has done but what we need to do going forward.”

Kelly is expected to unveil her proposals on the issue next week.

Standing in front of city hall in Nashua, Marchand was flanked by supporters of his campaign and of abortion rights on one side, and by demonstrators opposed to abortion on his other side. After taking questions from reporters, Marchand spent about 10 minutes answering questions from the anti-abortion demonstrators.

“Currently, eight states have laws that explicitly protect the right to have an abortion. I believe we should be the ninth,” Marchand said.

He said that if elected, he would propose language early next year to declare it’s the state’s public policy that every individual has the right to choose or refuse birth control and every woman has the right to choose or refuse to have an abortion.

And Marchand urged the elimination of existing state restrictions on abortion. He targeted the parental notification requirement and the partial birth abortion ban, which were both passed early this decade under the leadership of then-House Speaker Bill O’Brien.

He also called for overturning the so-called “fetal homicide bill.” The measure, passed last year by the GOP-dominated Legislature and signed into law by Sununu, says that unborn babies 20 weeks and older can be considered victims of murder and manslaughter.

As a member of the Executive Council, Sununu voted against state funding for Planned Parenthood in 2015, citing videos involving the sale of fetal parts. But the next year, he voted in favor of the funding, explaining that the videos had been “debunked.” Both times, he was the swing vote on the five-member council.

During his 2016 campaign for governor, Sununu made a point of declaring his support for women’s health issues.

“I have always supported women’s health initiatives and will continue to,” he said.

And he reiterated his position in a TV commercial days before the election.

“I took on my own party to expand women’s health, and I fought for more choices for our families,” he said in the ad.

But both Democratic candidates are questioning Sununu’s commitment to women’s reproductive rights.

“I think the governor has a history of waffling on Planned Parenthood,” Kelly said at Saturday’s forum.

And Tuesday, Marchand challenged Sununu to “support explicit language that will make us the ninth state in America that will make abortion legal in the state irrespective of what the U.S. Supreme Court may or may not do in the next few years.”

University of New Hampshire pollster Andrew Smith pointed out that Granite Staters “in general, are pro-choice.” He pointed to his most recent Granite State poll on the issue, which found that only 10 percent felt abortion should not be legal in any circumstance.

“Even among Republicans, only 19 percent don’t believe abortion should be legal in any circumstances,” Smith said.

Rath, who supports Sununu’s re-election, questions the strategy of using the issue to take on the governor.

“It’s going to be hard for them (Democrats) to use it as a leverage issue against the governor in the general election,” Rath said. “The way the governor has articulated his position on it, he’s pretty consistent with where the bulk of opinion is in this state.”

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