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New Hampshire House votes to protect abortion rights

In March, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to codify abortion rights up to 24 weeks and remove civil and criminal penalties for doctors, among other wins for reproductive rights.

Last month, New Hampshire state representatives voted on a series of abortion-related bills in the closely divided New Hampshire House of Representatives. In a win for reproductive rights advocates, the House voted to codify abortion rights up to 24 weeks into pregnancy and remove civil and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions after that period, according to state legislative records.

Multiple other abortion-related bills were tabled or rejected, according to the records. A constitutional amendment to protect abortion failed to reach the three-fifths margin required to pass. The House also rejected a proposed “heartbeat bill” that would outlaw abortions after the first detectable heartbeat in a fetus — which can occur six weeks into pregnancy — as well as a bill that would require medical treatment for infants still alive after an attempted abortion. Representatives also voted against a bill that would mandate individuals to wait 24 hours for treatment after requesting an abortion. 

According to the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England website, New Hampshire law allows abortions for any reason until six months into pregnancy. After six months, abortion is banned with exceptions for protecting the life of the mother and fatal fetal diagnoses. A 2022 St. Anselm poll found that current state law aligns with the views of most New Hampshire residents — while 71% of Granite Staters describe themselves as pro-choice, 71% also oppose unrestricted abortion access. 

During the 2022 gubernatorial race, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said that he would codify abortion rights and sign a bill removing civil and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions. Although both of Sununu’s legislative priorities recently passed the House, their fates — HB 88 for codification and HB 224 for civil and criminal penalties — will be determined in the Republican-controlled State Senate, which rejected a similar bill to codify abortion before 24 weeks on March 9, the Associated Press reported.

The new bills — and abortion laws in general — are hotly contested among both parties in the state legislature. 

State representative Ross Berry, R-Manchester, said he voted against HB 224 because he did not want to act against current state laws — including a bill passed in February 2022, which made it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks and required every person seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound. Berry added that he thinks the current state law is “extraordinarily reasonable.”

“The promise I made to my voters was that I would not make any changes to the existing laws pertaining to abortion,” Berry said. “That means no new restrictions and no attempting to undermine those restrictions.”

Jason Hennessey, president of New Hampshire Right to Life, a pro-life organization, also criticized the new bill, explaining that such laws need penalties to be effective. 

“HB 224, by removing the penalties [for doctors], would render the law moot because a law with no penalties means that nobody has to follow it,” he said. “[Members of New Hampshire Right to Life] consider this to be one of the worst human rights travesties that we could do.”

He added that the bill “does literally nothing,” as abortion is already legal before the third trimester in New Hampshire and the bill could later be repealed by a pro-life legislature. 

Hennessey dismissed the idea that the New Hampshire ban is extreme, adding that many states restrict abortion earlier than New Hampshire does.

Berry added that he took issue with the principle of codification, explaining that the government should not have to grant rights, since rights are assumed by citizens of a free society.

“The government does not tell you that you can do something,” Berry said. “It tells you that you cannot do something.”

Government professor and state representative Russell Muirhead, D-Hanover, disagreed, adding that codification brings both awareness and permanence to reproductive rights. 

“Any time you make the nature of the protection more explicit it becomes more secure,” Muirhead said.“It’s true that every policy can be overturned in the future, but a policy that is popular, widely understood and has the force of precedent is going to be harder to overturn.”

​Josie Pinto, executive director​ of the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire, a pro-choice group, added that 24-week codification is necessary to protect reproductive rights. 

“New Hampshire is the only state in New England that doesn’t have proactive protections for abortion rights,” Pinto said. “We want a law saying that we are proactively affirming the right to abortion so we are not at the whims of the legislature who can just chip away at that 24-week ban.”

Pinto added that restrictions on third trimester abortions unnecessarily insert the government between the patient and a doctor.

“To date, I cannot remember a single patient ever coming to us just because they wanted an abortion in the third trimester,” Pinto said. “We don’t want the government to have an unnecessary week number ban because we think it’s important that we let this be between a provider and a patient.”

Muirhead also emphasized that restrictions may harm both the pregnant individual and their children.

“I don’t see that an inflexible policy is going to serve mothers or their children,” he said.

Dartmouth Democrats member Fiona Hood ’26 added that HB 224 encourages doctors to provide strong care.

“I think that doctors should not be criminalized for doing their job,” she said. “If there are criminal restrictions on doing their job, the best doctors will be disincentivized from coming to the state.”

Source: The Dart Mouth

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