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Inside N.H. State House, political fights over abortion rights simmer in wake of leaked Roe opinion

Abortion rights [rotesters stood in front of New Hampshire's federal courthouse on Tuesday. (Gabrielle Healy/NHPR)
Abortion rights [rotesters stood in front of New Hampshire's federal courthouse on Tuesday. (Gabrielle Healy/NHPR)

N.H. House Democrats tried and failed in their first attempt to bring forward an amendment enshrining the right to abortion into state law, as the fallout from a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade continued on Wednesday inside the State House.

Democrats said lawmakers needed to act urgently to protect abortion rights in anticipation of a likely ruling in the Supreme Court case out of Mississippi being handed down later this spring.

“The landscape for women’s health is about to change drastically at a time when this body will not be in session,” said Lucy Weber, a Democrat from Walpole.

The move was delayed on procedural grounds by Republicans, including Majority Leader Jason Osborne, who called the effort “grandstanding over the outrage du ’jour.” Lawmakers are likely to take up the issue again at the end of the two-day session on Thursday, and possibly introduce other amendments that seek to both expand or limit a right to abortion services.

New Hampshire is the only state in New England that hasn’t codified a person’s right to an abortion into statute. Even if the Supreme Court does strike down Roe when a formal ruling is released in the coming months, abortions in New Hampshire will remain legal until the 24th week of a pregnancy, unless future lawmakers seek to restrict or ban the procedure.

Inside the Executive Council chamber on Wednesday, the lone Democrat on the body cited the draft ruling on Roe as evidence of the urgent need to revisit contracts for Planned Parenthood previously blocked by Republicans.

Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord asked Gov. Chris Sununu to include previously denied contracts for non-abortion services, including sexually transmitted infections screenings and other reproductive health measures, at a future meeting.

“Women’s rights are being threatened, they are being threatened right now,” said Warmington. “And we need to make sure that we are providing essential health care services.”

Sununu countered that he didn’t believe the contracts had the necessary three votes to pass the body, after previous efforts to award the funds were blocked by Republicans.

During a press conference following the meeting, Sununu reiterated his position as a “pro-choice” governor, despite signing into law a GOP-backed ban on abortions after 24 weeks that also included possible criminal penalties for doctors, and a mandatory ultrasound for all people seeking an abortion.

Sununu has since backed a plan to repeal the ultrasound mandate, and to allow an exception to the 24 week ban when a fatal fetal anomaly is detected. He had pursued more exceptions to current law, but those were rejected by GOP lawmakers.

He said he would continue to work to strengthen women’s access to abortion services in New Hampshire, not withstanding the Supreme Court’s eventual decision on Roe, but didn’t offer specifics.

2021 University of New Hampshire poll found New Hampshire residents “generally favor legal abortion.” The survey found that 38% of respondents say abortions should be legal in all circumstances while 50% said it should be legal in limited circumstances. Just 8% said abortion should be illegal under any circumstance.

“Regardless of what the Supreme Court might do, our situation in New Hampshire does not change, fundamentally, at all,” said Sununu. “A woman’s right to have that choice is still in place, as it was yesterday, today and will be tomorrow.”

This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New Hampshire Public Radio.

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