By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Women across New Hampshire were urged to contact their legislators and the governor on the need to protect abortion rights in New Hampshire after political losses in the state Senate last week and a federal court ruling now threatening access to abortion medication.
“We want you all to know that we are here,” said Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Concord Democrat. “We will stand every day for reproductive freedom. We will fight every day to protect the rights of granite staters to make their own personal healthcare decisions,” Warmington said.
While the Supreme Court on Friday paused implementation, future access to the drug mifepristone is in doubt after a Texas judge’s ruling potentially taking it off the shelf for women across the country.
While there is now a pause on its implementation, it came the same week that the Republican-controlled New Hampshire State Senate voted 14-10 to oppose two abortion-related measures.
House Bill 88 which would have affirmatively protected abortion under the current laws had passed the House 199-185 on March 23.
House Bill 224, which also passed the House on a wider margin of 205-178 would have decriminalized performing the procedure after 24 weeks.
Both those bills, which saw many anti-abortion activists testify, received no support from the 14 Senate Republicans.
This effectively ended efforts to address the issue of abortion this year in the legislature.
But Warmington and others said Gov. Chris Sununu could still act to codify abortion rights into the budget.
U.S. Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-NH, was also part of the press conference Monday morning in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building before heading back to Washington. She said she, too, is fighting for reproductive freedom at the national level.
“I’m proud to be signing on to protecting the Reproductive Freedom Act legislation that reaffirms the FDA’s authority to approve medication abortion and safeguards healthcare providers’ ability to prescribe medication abortion via telehealth. If we don’t continue to speak out and act, mifepristone is at risk of being taken off the market entirely leaving millions of women across the United States with severely limited access to medication abortion,” Kuster said.
Currently, the drug is available in New Hampshire and represents about half of all abortions.
New Hampshire currently allows abortion up until 24 weeks of pregnancy, but that is not written into law and an effort to protect it was rebuffed last week in the Senate.
Sununu, a Republican, has maintained he is pro-choice and that the right to abortion will remain in New Hampshire. But others said they are not so sure that he or other Republicans will stop trying to erode reproductive freedom.
Warmington asked him to not sign a biennial budget this spring which does not include the codification of abortion access in New Hampshire, noting he allowed for the current limitations to abortion access in the last budget cycle.
The event also included remarks from Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester; House Deputy Democratic Leader Alexis Simpson, D-Exeter, and Sarah Anderson, the practice manager at Equality Health Center in Concord.
Anderson described the reasons many chose to take the drug in the privacy of their own home rather than go to a clinic for an abortion. For more than 20 years Equality Health Center has been offering medication abortion in addition to the in-office procedure.
“We know firsthand that both methods are exceedingly safe and that the potential barrier to accessing medication for abortion is harmful to those seeking abortion care.
“We know that the decisions that were handed down recently are political. They are not based on scientific research and they are certainly not based on looking out for the welfare of girls and women,” she said.
Anderson said it is important to be able to offer alternatives and wanted to address some of the reasons why some would choose the medication.
“We hear that people want privacy. They want to go through this process in the comfort of their own home and with whoever they choose” to support them.
She said this allows them to avoid “potential harassment” from anti-choice protesters outside the clinics.
Anderson said some people chose the medication because they have had a miscarriage before and feel comfortable with a similar process.
The medication also allows some more control over the timing of the process, when they have family, work, and childcare responsibilities to manage.
For those who have been sexually abused or traumatized in some other manner that this method makes them feel less vulnerable and reduces the risk of a triggering event, Anderson said.
“We have had people choose medication because they have to prove pregnancy loss to a partner to keep themselves alive,” she said.
Anderson said approximately 30 percent of domestic violence starts or escalates during pregnancy.
“Whatever the reason for the method chosen, we honor these person’s autonomy and their freedom. We trust them to make the best decisions for themselves. I am grateful to our representatives who show up every day to fight for this personal freedom and I am honored to be here today,” Anderson concluded.
Warmington said the important thing is getting the word out “that there is a direct threat to the access and availability to abortion care in New Hampshire.
“If they want to protect reproductive freedom, they need to contact their elected officials, they need to contact the governor’s office and let them know…,” Warmington said.
Kuster, who worked as an adoption attorney in New Hampshire for 25 years before she became a congresswoman, said not one of the hundreds of women and girls she represented turned to the government to make that choice for them.
Poll after poll has shown that Granite Staters overwhelmingly opposed the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
Scientists and medical experts should be making the call on safety, not political appointees, Kuster said.
Sununu has said he supports eliminating the criminal penalty for doctors performing abortions after 24 weeks. But that bill will not make it to his desk this year.
Warmington said she urged him last week to join other states in a lawsuit filed in Washington State that would impact access to mifepristone but he was silent on the issue.
“Our neighboring states of Maine and Vermont are protected from this bad action by the extremist judge in Texas. We are not. Our governor has chosen not to act and since that meeting last week, he has remained silent.
“I also urged that he sign an executive order. This is the second time I have urged this to protect access to abortion medication and to protect patients and providers of our state from the overreach of other states who criminalize fundamental health care services. The governor has remained silent. I have also urged that he take action to codify Roe v. Wade, to commit that he will not sign a budget unless it includes the codification of Roe v. Wade. The governor has remained silent. And finally, I asked that he demand that this legislature remove the criminal penalties from his abortion ban. These criminal penalties are threatening our entire fetal-maternal health care system and yet the governor does nothing,” Warmington said.
In 1991 when Soucy said she was in the House of Representatives, the state agreed to be a site for the study of RU486, now known as mifepristone.
“I’ll never forget voting on that resolution thinking to myself how proud and grateful I was to live in a state that respected and valued women’s rights to privacy and bodily autonomy. I think that is why standing here is pains me so deeply to know that a majority of today’s legislators are turning their backs on women,” Soucy said.
Women and girls, she said, are experiencing genuine fear and anxiety about what the future holds regarding control over their own bodies.
“We were sent to respond to the needs and calls of our constituents,” Soucy said. “We’ve not taken one step to protect the women of New Hampshire from the extremist calls to ban abortion outright or enact fetal heartbeat bills, which we know certain sitting elected officials are actively working to do.”
Regardless of the obstacles, she said “We will not give up the fight.”
Simpson is the prime sponsor of House Bill 88, the Access to Abortion Care Act, that died in the Senate.
She said New Hampshire is one of only three states where abortion is legal but not explicitly protected in state law.
“The legal void we have here is unacceptable to granite staters,” she said.
“As long as we have restrictions on the books we ought to have our rights on the books as well,” Simpson said.
“We should have passed House Bill 88 and sent a clear message that we understand what is at stake and that we trust women and their doctors.”
The press conference concluded with a plea for residents to reach out to their elected leaders to act to protect abortion rights in New Hampshire.