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House defeats 15-day abortion ban, constitutional right to abortion

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House defeats 15-day abortion ban, constitutional right to abortion

Feb 01, 2024 | 2:25 pm ET
By Annmarie Timmins
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House defeats 15-day abortion ban, constitutional right to abortion
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People rally in support of abortion rights at the State House on May 13, 2022. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Of the nearly half dozen abortion-related bills headed to lawmakers, three failed Thursday in the House. 

Current law bans abortion after 24 weeks except when the mother’s health is in danger or a fatal fetal anomaly is present. 

A proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Rep. Amanda Toll, a Keene Democrat, sought to enshrine the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks in the state constitution. It won a majority of votes, 193-184, but fell short of the three-fifths needed for a constitutional amendment. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in supporting it.

Opponents of CACR 23 argued the legislation was not needed because state law already allows unrestricted access to abortion up to 24 weeks and beyond in limited circumstances. They also said the proposed legislation would have invalidated the 24-week ban by allowing physicians to perform an abortion at any time if they deemed it necessary. 

“Reproductive/abortion rights are not in any way under threat in New Hampshire,” Rep. Katelyn Kuttab, a Windham Republican, wrote in her recommendation to defeat the bill.

House defeats 15-day abortion ban, constitutional right to abortion
Seven Republicans joined Democrats in supporting a proposed constitutional amendment enshrining the right to abortion in the state constitution but the 193-184 vote fell short of the three-fifths required. (Screenshot)

Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat, advocated for it, saying it was in line with the state’s independent nature. 

“The supporters of this resolution recognize the importance of the right of individuals to control their own bodies,” she wrote. “Instead of relying on a representative body to make such personal decisions, in keeping with New Hampshire’s commitment to limited government, we ask the New Hampshire Legislature to let the people decide their own future.”

House Bill 1248, sponsored by Franklin Rep. David Testerman, a Republican, would have replaced the 24-week abortion limit with a 15-day ban – before most know they are pregnant. 

House Speaker Sherman Packard predicted in December that the bill wouldn’t make it out of the House, and even Cornerstone Action, a faith-based nonprofit that vehemently opposes abortion, objected to the bill, saying it will fight to protect the state’s existing law. 

The House voted, 363-11, to indefinitely postpone the bill.

Testerman was the prime sponsor of a second abortion bill that failed Thursday.

House Bill 1541, which would have restricted access to an abortion by requiring that abortions after 15 weeks be done in the presence of a second physician, in a hospital with a premature birth intensive care unit. That failed on a voice vote.

The New Hampshire Hospital Association said it did not have a count of the number of hospitals that would have met that requirement. Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, a West Lebanon Democrat, who has tracked the closure of maternity wards and been involved in hospital-related legislation, said there are only two neonatal intensive care units in New Hampshire, Dartmouth Health in Lebanon and Elliot Hospital in Manchester. 

Several other bills are awaiting a vote. 

Two bills seek to protect access to the abortion drug mifepristone, which is used with a second drug to terminate pregnancies up to 11 weeks in most clinics. A challenge to mifepristone is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court

Toll is asking the House and Senate to pass a “concurrent resolution,” (HCR 11) which has no legal power, to condemn restrictions on medication abortion. Senate Bill 567, from Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat, would require the Department of Health and Human Services to identify ways to protect and expand access to reproductive health care, including medication abortions.

Ahead of a Senate public hearing on Whitley’s bill, 693 registered their support for it, while 214 opposed it. 

The department noted in its response to the bill that it is prohibited from using state or federal money for abortion-related activities. It said it can only identify ways to increase outreach and education about contraception and access to preventative health care services.

With Senate Bill 575, Sen. Debra Altschiller, a Stratham Democrat, is seeking to prohibit New Hampshire public officials from cooperating with efforts from outside the state to limit access to abortion access and contraception. Nearly 700 people told the Senate Judiciary Committee they supported the bill, while 210 urged members to defeat it.

Altschiller has also sponsored a constitutional amendment, CACR 24, that would add language to the state constitution protecting an individual’s right to reproductive autonomy, which she described as “central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course.” Nearly 780 people registered their support for the legislation. Opponents numbered 460.