Democrats propose abortion ban repeal to senate committee 

  • Katie Gilbertson of Nashua holds. up sign at the Nationwide Defend Abortion Rights/Women’s Rally on Saturday October 2, 2021 107 N. Main Street, Concord from 9-11am GEOFF FORESTER

  • The crowd listens to speakers at the Nationwide Defend Abortion Rights/Women’s Rally at the State House on Saturday October 2, 2021 in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 1/20/2022 12:30:39 PM
Modified: 1/20/2022 12:29:35 PM

Just three weeks after a law prohibiting abortion after 24-weeks of pregnancy went into effect, the governor, Republican lawmakers, and even the original sponsors of the Fetal Life Protection law have supported changes to the legislation.

On Wednesday, Democrats took a stab at rectifying what critics call “one of the most restrictive abortion bans in New Hampshire history.” The Senate Judiciary Committee heard two bills: SB 399, which would overturn the abortion ban entirely, and SB 436, which would establish abortion rights in the state.

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, SB 399’s primary sponsor, said state law should not interfere with a woman and doctor’s ability to make health decisions in unique and complex circumstances.

“Today we are at a crossroads,” she said. “As a state, do we respect a woman’s right to choose? Or do we tell New Hampshire women that our state’s value of individual freedom does not apply to them?”

As the law currently stands, abortions after 24 weeks are illegal with no exceptions other than for “medical emergencies.” A fetus is generally considered viable – or able to survive after birth – at 24 weeks of pregnancy. The law also states women also must undergo an ultrasound before an abortion to determine the age of the fetus. Ultrasounds early in pregnancy can involve inserting a camera into the vagina, which critics say are both invasive and expensive.

State Rep. Beth Folsom, who sponsored the original fetal protection act, said an amendment that narrowly passed a House committee Tuesday rectified some of the most controversial portions of the abortion ban by scaling back the ultrasound requirement for women seeking an abortion before their third trimester, rendering a complete overhaul unnecessary.

However, critics say this slight revision does not address more substantial ethical problems with the law.

Ilana Cass, Chair of Dartmouth Hitchcock’s OBGYN department said it criminalizes doctors, and may prevent the state from attracting medical students. A medical provider that violates the Fetal Life Protection law could face up to seven years in prison.

“That is a fairly significant deterrent to seek practice of obstetrics in the state of New Hampshire,” she said. “The medical authority and training that we possess as medical providers is really being cast aside in favor of legislators deciding what is the appropriate care.”

Opponents of the ban have also argued the law fails to recognize women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Gov. Chris Sununu said while he supports limits on third-trimester abortions, he would support a bill that carves out exemptions into the law for situations like rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormality. House committee members rejected a bill to do just that on Tuesday.

With the U.S. Supreme Court considering cases that could erode abortion rights, Seacoast Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka proposed legislation that would recognize a woman’s rights to an abortion before 24-weeks.

“You have already limited access to abortion in New Hampshire,” said Kwoka, the bill’s Democratic sponsor.  “Now is the time to codify the right to the extent you have allowed.”

The committee will vote on both abortion bills in the coming weeks.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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