Our Turn: As chief justice, will MacDonald protect a woman’s right to choose

  • Gordon MacDonald Elise Amendola

Published: 6/18/2019 12:15:19 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to be the next chief justice of the N.H. Supreme Court has a lot of answering to do. At his public hearing before the Executive Council on June 26, nominee N.H. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s record must be closely and carefully scrutinized, and he must be asked questions to illuminate his views on the right to privacy and our reproductive freedoms.

As longtime volunteers and former board presidents of NARAL Pro-Choice N.H., we are deeply concerned about MacDonald being named to the state’s highest judicial office and becoming the guardian of our constitutional rights.

At a time when federal protections for abortion access are in serious danger of disappearing entirely, women must look to state laws and constitutions for protection. And, here in New Hampshire, we need our Supreme Court leader to be an individual who respects a woman’s right to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, and who will uphold that right in appeals presented to the court. Instead, with Attorney General MacDonald, we have someone whose public record on these questions is alarming rather than reassuring.

As any casual reader of the news is well aware, the Donald Trump presidency and the installment of an anti-choice majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has emboldened extremist anti-choice politicians. Just this year, 14 states have passed laws making it harder to access abortion, including seven states with total bans or near-bans. The strategy behind these measures is to instigate a legal case that will result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as these laws fly in the face of the protections guaranteed by Roe.

Since the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, the likelihood of overturning Roe is greater than it has ever been since 1973. If the 46-year-old Roe decision is overturned next year, or at any time, protecting abortion access will be left entirely to the states. Whether laws are enacted in New Hampshire to restrict abortion or to protect it, they will in all likelihood eventually make their way to the N.H. Supreme Court. The future of reproductive freedoms in our state may well depend upon this nominee.

Unfortunately, MacDonald’s past is extremely troubling to us as reproductive rights advocates. He was legislative director and chief of staff for the virulently anti-choice U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, who introduced at least nine extreme anti-choice bills in the Senate during MacDonald’s tenure. For years, Gordon MacDonald represented the Diocese of Manchester, which opposes all abortions and most forms of contraception. In this capacity, MacDonald is known to have assisted the cause of former attorney general Kelly Ayotte in pursuing her defense of N.H.’s unconstitutional parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, even after the law had been invalidated here in New Hampshire.

Taken together, Attorney General MacDonald’s history compels a focused and comprehensive inquiry into his willingness to protect a woman’s right to access abortion when needed and to exercise personal autonomy in her reproductive health care decisions.

N.H. women deserve a chief justice who understands the importance of abortion access to our ability to live the lives we deserve. The freedom to obtain an abortion must never be compromised; that choice is essential to women’s economic success at every level, from the personal to the societal. According to the Guttmacher Institute, women who lack this fundamental human right are at greater risk of poverty, abuse and poor health.

We are living at a time when abortion rights are in grave peril, and when our state Supreme Court may well become a bulwark against their further erosion or even elimination. We need to know if MacDonald believes in a woman’s right to control her pregnancy and terminate it if she chooses, for personal or health reasons. We need to know if he agrees that the state has an extremely limited, if any, role in circumscribing that right. And we need to know how MacDonald interprets the right to privacy and the limits of government under N.H.’s state constitution and whether he is prepared to uphold state laws or constitutional amendments intended to codify a woman’s right to choose abortion. A failure by the nominee to answer these questions with clarity will foreshadow an uncertain, and we believe unacceptable, risk to the future health, lives and freedoms of N.H. women.

We do not know what is in Attorney General MacDonald’s head and in his heart about our right to privacy and our reproductive freedoms. We do know that on June 26, our executive councilors will have an opportunity to attempt to find out. We hope they will.

(Susan Arnold lives in Strafford. Monica Ciolfi lives in Concord.)

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