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Abortion ban repeal bill, rewritten as ultrasound clarification, passes Senate


Abortion ban repeal bill, rewritten as ultrasound clarification, passes Senate

Feb 03, 2022 | 4:21 pm ET
By Annmarie Timmins
Abortion ban repeal bill, rewritten as ultrasound clarification, passes Senate
The Senate also rejected four amendments proposed by Democrats. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

In a 14-10 party-line vote Thursday, the Senate passed a significant rewrite of a bill seeking to repeal the state’s new 24-week abortion ban, changing it from a repeal to a clarification of the ban’s ultrasound requirement.

Republicans also rejected four amendments from Democrats that would have scaled back the abortion ban by adding exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies, and a mother’s health, and eliminating fines and prison time for doctors who violate the law. 

Only the amendment adding an exception for a fetus that is dead or would not live after delivery got the support of a Republican, Sen. Erin Hennessey of Littleton.

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat, sponsored Senate Bill 399 repealing the ban and a compromise amendment that would have preserved the ban but added exceptions, including one for fatal fetal anomalies.

“I hear my colleagues express that 24 weeks is a long time before seeking an abortion,” she said. “So let’s be clear. Having a woman carry a pregnancy for an additional 16 weeks with a dead fetus is simply cruel. It’s unconscionable, and it flies in the face of what we as Granite Staters.”

That exception would not allow the abortion of a viable fetus simply because disabilites were detected. But Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, suggested so when she spoke of her daughter, who is paralzyed and was born with serious health issues that included brain and spinal cord injuries. 

“Who gets to make that determination whether or not that child, that handicapped child, has a right to live?” she said.  “Our disabled citizens of this state give so much to our state. They are not an impediment. They are not something that just needs to be gotten rid of.” 

The repeal bill first hit a roadblock last month when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted, 3-2, to replace the repeal with the clarification that an ultrasound must be performed only when a doctor knows or suspects a woman’s pregnancy has reached 24 weeks. There is disagreement whether the current law requires an ultrasound at all points in an abortion. 

House Bill 1609, which seeks to add the same exceptions, saw a similar rewrite last month by the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. Neither a letter from Gov. Chris Sununu supporting that bill nor the Republicans who sponsored it could overcome objections from committee Republicans, who eliminated the exceptions and kept only the ultrasound clarification.

In a statement following the Senate vote, Sununu reaffirmed his support for adding exceptions and said, “I will continue to work with legislators to reform and improve the law so we can ensure that access to these services remain safe and accessible in New Hampshire.”

In a second vote Thursday, the Senate tabled Senate Bill 436, which would leave the new ban in place but prohibit any future state restrictions on abortion. The votes followed impassioned and at times tense debates on the Senate floor.