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New Hampshire abortion bills held, passed in late votes

March 17, 2022 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire House sent mixed messages on abortion Wednesday, declining to either narrow or expand the state’s new ban on the procedure after 24 weeks gestation but advancing two other anti-abortion bills.

With the U.S. Supreme Court considering a case that could severely erode abortion rights, state legislatures across the country are taking up measures to further restrict the procedure or ensure access to it. New Hampshire lawmakers are considering at least eight bills on both sides of the issue.

During a session that lasted to nearly 10 p.m., the House tabled a bill Wednesday that would prohibit abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity. Similar to Texas’ abortion law, the most restrictive in the nation, the bill would essentially prohibit abortion after six weeks, though unlike the Texas version, it would not allow private citizens to file lawsuits against those who help someone get an abortion.

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A bill to modify the 24-week ban that was enacted as part of last year’s state budget came to the floor with a bipartisan recommendation to remove criminal penalties for doctors and add an exception for pregnancies involving fatal fetal anomalies. That failed by two votes, and instead, the House sent the Senate a version that removed a requirement that an ultrasound be performed before any abortion.

“This bill as amended by the majority of the committee honors and reflects the feelings of those with disparate views but nonetheless continues the long tradition we’ve had in this state of respecting women’s privacy and the right for a woman to make a decision having to do with her body without 400 members of the Legislature trying to find their way into the doctor’s office,” Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, said in support of the failed amendment.

Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, countered that the amendment made a mockery of the existing ban.

“There is no way to hold any violator accountable,” she said. “This majority amendment adds on an open-ended exception that makes the law a meaningless joke... my colleagues who support abortion up to birth should look the people of New Hampshire in the eye and be honest about what they’re doing instead of concealing their actions with an underhanded gutting bill.”

Anti-abortion lawmakers, however, were the ones who inserted the 24-week ban into the state budget rather than push it as a stand-alone bill that might have been vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposed it.

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The House also tabled a bill that would have enshrined abortion rights in state statue. It passed a bill that would allow health care workers to refuse to participate in the delivery of contraception or abortion care, and another that would eliminate the safety zone that keeps protesters at least 25 feet (7.5 meters) away from abortion clinics. Those bills now go to the Senate.

Kayla Montgomery of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said the votes put New Hampshire on the path of further restrictions.

“Today’s shameful votes are out of step with Granite State values and the will of voters, who overwhelmingly support access to safe, legal abortion and oppose current restrictions on the books already,” she said in a statement Wednesday night. “Now is the time for New Hampshire to lead the nation in bodily autonomy, medical privacy, and reproductive freedom - not cower to an extreme out-of-state political agenda that will harm our residents.”