New state law restricts access to reproductive care

The bill makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks and also requires every person seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound.

by Emily Fagell | 2/17/22 5:05am

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by Saphfire Brown / The Dartmouth

A new abortion law took effect in New Hampshire on Jan. 1 that restricted access to reproductive care across the state. The initial bill makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks and requires anyone receiving an abortion to have an ultrasound, according to NHPR.  

On Feb. 3, the New Hampshire Senate modified ultrasound requirements, requiring the procedure only when a fetus nears the 24-week mark, but rejected Democrats’ efforts to add exceptions to the ban. According to a press release from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the law provides no exceptions for “fatal fetal diagnoses, rape, or incest; and it has a very narrow exception for maternal physical health.”

PPNNE campaigns and communications director Sara Persechino said the ban is “particularly cruel” for limiting pregnant people’s actions.

“It’s criminalizing their doctors and then forcing them to travel out of state for the care that they need, if they can afford to do that,” she said.

Persechino added that the second part of the bill — the ultrasound mandate for fetuses nearing 24 weeks — will most affect patients at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, as the organization does not perform abortions after 24 weeks, as that is the domain of hospital care.

The bill is especially harmful for survivors of sexual assault, according to government professor and Democratic state representative Russell Muirhead of Hanover. He wrote in an emailed statement that ultrasounds are “invasive procedures that, for victims of rape and assault, only redoubles their trauma — and for no medical reason whatsoever.” 

Furthermore, ultrasounds cost about $400 to $500 for uninsured patients, according to NHPR. Traveling out of state to have an abortion after 24 weeks incurs further expenses.

“We now will have to help arrange care in Massachusetts or Vermont, which for some, is a great distance away from the support of their communities and families,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center chair of the OBGYN department Ilana Cass wrote in an emailed statement. “They might incur additional expense, thereby compounding the inequity of care for our most marginalized women.” 

According to Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter president Eliza Holmes ’24, the law also takes funding away from the New Hampshire Family Program, which allows uninsured or lower-income patients to access reproductive healthcare.

While the bill did not take effect until Jan. 1, it was passed last spring in the state’s 2022 budget package. Muirhead wrote that Republicans had inserted anti-abortion language into the budget “to make it veto-proof.”

Republican state Rep. Walter Stapleton of Sullivan, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he supported the bill because he is a “Christian, pro-life advocate,” calling the millions of abortions since 1973 a “national travesty.”

“If we’re going to survive as a good, functional, constitutional society, we have to respect life in the womb,” Stapleton said. “That’s the most dangerous place for humanity at this point — is being in the womb.”

New Hampshire residents are divided on the bill. According to polling from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, 30% of Granite Staters strongly support banning abortion after 24 weeks, while 38% strongly oppose it. 

“This is the most aggressive attack on abortion rights in NH for fifty years,” Muirhead wrote. “And it’s not over.”

Republican state Rep. Jeffrey Greeson of Grafton disagreed, writing in an emailed statement that “most people agree” that the law is “reasonable.” Greeson also questioned the rationale behind opposition to the bill.

“Abortion advocates often state that the farther along in pregnancy a woman is, the more risk there is during the procedure,” Greeson wrote. “Given this, I don't understand why there is so much fervency to repeal the 24-week restriction, thus making abortions, by their own admission, less safe.”

At Dartmouth, student groups such as PPGA and the Dartmouth Democrats have criticized the law and what they felt was Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s hypocrisy when it comes to his publicly stated pro-choice position.

Dartmouth Democrats president Miles Brown ’23 said that Sununu has “never been pro-choice.” Brown pointed to Sununu’s time on the New Hampshire Executive Council, during which he voted against state contracts for Planned Parenthood.

“[Sununu] claims he signed the budget because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s not worth vetoing an entire budget over one small issue,” Brown said. “Obviously, we don’t see abortion as a small, minor detail. Republicans were tactful in their language and sneaking that into the budget.”

Both campus groups have worked to push back against the bill. According to Dartmouth Democrats policy director Clare Downey ’24, the club typically protests laws through student testimony, letters and phone calls to politicians.

The Dartmouth College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment. 

Holmes said that PPGA has also used phone banking to reach individuals in the state Senate and the House Judiciary Committee. In addition, Holmes spoke at a “Day of Action” — a day to advocate for reproductive rights organized by the Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund — at the New Hampshire State House in December.

While advocacy against the original abortion ban did not prevent the law from being passed, new bills have been introduced that, if also passed, may further curtail reproductive rights. 

As an example, Holmes mentioned H.B. 1477, a bill that “would prohibit all abortions after the detection of a fetal cardiac activity,” the same threshold as the controversial Texas abortion bill enacted in September 2021.

Greeson wrote that he “believe[s] in the value of human life” but “would be surprised if HB-1477 passes.”  

According to the Planned Parenthood press release, there are also bills being considered that would push back against restrictions on abortion rights. For example, HB 1674 would establish protections for abortion rights before 24 weeks, and HB 1673 would repeal the state’s abortion ban and ultrasound mandate. Constitutional amendment CACR 18 would enshrine abortion rights in New Hampshire’s Constitution. 

Other bills currently under consideration would soften the 24 week ban or repeal it altogether. 

Brown said that the Dartmouth Democrats are continuing to advocate against new bills and amendments restricting reproductive rights. According to Brown, they have been working with students across the state to spread information, writing letters to politicians and calling the governor. 

“[Sununu] can try to maintain this image of a pro-choice politician as long as he wants,” Brown continued. “Ultimately, if he signs this bill into law, New Hampshire will become one of the most restrictive states in nation in terms of abortion.”

Greeson countered that “most women are not affected” by the bill, as the vast majority of abortions occur within the first trimester. Stapleton added that he does not think the bill will have “an appreciable impact” on the state.

Dick’s House did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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