By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — It was nearly a clean sweep for supporters of reproductive rights in the House Thursday.
Before the session ended, the House voted to put reproductive rights into statute, remove the criminal and civil penalties in the state’s 24-week abortion ban approved two years ago, and killed bills aimed at further limiting women’s reproductive rights.
A bill to repeal the 24-week ban died on a tie vote that House Speaker Sherman Packard cast.
The only other legislative disappointment was the proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution which failed to reach the super majority — 60 percent — it needed to be sent to the Senate for a vote.
It did receive a slim majority,
After the votes Kayla Montgomery, Vice President for Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said “Today’s critical votes to protect and expand reproductive rights truly represent the will of the people of New Hampshire, who overwhelmingly believe abortion should be safe and legal.”
New Hampshire House members took steps for the state to join the rest of New England in protecting abortion rights, she said.
When the US Supreme Court overturned Roe Vs Wade and for the first time ended a federal constitutional right the court had earlier granted, it turned reproductive rights decisions over to the states, and a number of states have eliminated abortion rights.
“We are also incredibly encouraged that state representatives listened to their constituents and opposed attacks on reproductive freedom, including a near total abortion ban,” Montgomery said. “We urge the New Hampshire Senate to join in the support for HB 88 and HB 224, which Governor Sununu previously indicated he would sign, to ensure Granite Staters continue to have access to safe, legal abortion and our state’s trusted doctors are not criminalized for providing appropriate, compassionate care.”
Protection for Abortion
House Bill 88 would prohibit the state from restricting or interfering with an individual’s private decision to terminate a pregnancy except already in law in the 24-week ban.
The prime sponsor of the bill Rep. Alexis Simpson, D-Exeter, said the landscape has changed since the US Supreme Court decision.
“Nowhere in New Hampshire law is there explicit protection for a right to an abortion,” Simpson said. “We are now one step closer to protecting these rights for Granite Staters.”
The bill has to go to the Senate, which voted down a similar bill earlier this month.
While Simpson argued for the bill, opponents argued it is not needed as abortion is already legal in state law.
The bill was approved on a 199-185 vote.
House Bill 224 removed the criminal and civil penalties against doctors and other providers for performing an abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy or violating other provisions in the law.
Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, argued doctors are protected from penalties unless they flaunt the law in which case they should be punished like any other law breaker.
“There is nothing unfair in a criminal action against a person who flaunts the law,” Lynn said. “If as they claim it never happens, only in serious threat to the life or health of the mother, the short answer is they have nothing to worry about.”
But Rep. Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, and the prime sponsor of the bill, said the penalties discourage doctors from coming to the state and from remaining here after their residency.
“We need to do all we can to attract health care providers,” Wolf said, “and not deter them from moving here,” noting another birth center is closing in the state.
He shared the story of his daughter who was near her due with her baby and felt something was wrong.
She went to the hospital in Plymouth where she had a cesarean section and the baby came out with the umbilical cord around its neck several times.
The life of the baby was saved because a physician was available and his daughter did not have to travel to Dartmouth or Boston.
“We do not need these Draconian threats hanging over doctors,” Wolf said, “we ought to be encouraging doctors to come to New Hampshire and do their work so more grandfathers and grandmothers can bounce a baby on their knees.”
The bill passed on a 205-178 vote and goes to the Senate.
The House killed several bills that have been before lawmakers a number times over the years.
House Bill 582 would have required physicians to collect information from women who had abortions and share it with the state archive.
House Bill 562, which would have required a women to provide her “informed consent” before having an abortion procedure.
House Bill 591 would have prohibited an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be heard around the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy. The bill was killed on a 2711-110 vote.
House Bill 615, would have required an independent audit of reproductive health care facilities in order for organizations like Planned Parenthood to receive state contracts for family planning and other services not related to abortion.
The proposed constitutional amendment passed on a 193-191 vote, but failed to reach the three-fifths majority needed to pass out of the House and go to the Senate.
House Bill 271 to repeal the 24-week ban, failed to pass on a 192-192 tie vote and was tabled.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.