By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – A Constitutional Amendment effort has been launched in New Hampshire to protect abortion rights up until 24 weeks of pregnancy and after that allow a licensed physician to use their judgment on whether or not to terminate up to term, as they had before Jan. 1, 2022, when the state’s new abortion limits went into effect.
Those limits were placed in law limiting abortions to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Supporters of the measure, who announced the bipartisan action at a press conference Monday in the Legislative Office Building, said now is the time to join neighboring states such as Maine and Vermont to enshrine abortion as a right, here, rather than leave the state to the whims of one legislature or the next.
And some said they think this might be a popular enough idea to bring many more out to vote in the November 2024 election where voters will also decide the next president, governor and legislature.
But to get it on the ballot requires a heavy lift, with 60 percent of both the House and Senate each supporting the measure and at least 66 percent voter approval for passage to become a Constitutional Amendment, noted state Rep. Alexis Simpson, D-Exeter.
That would mean that there would need to be 240 of the 400-member House to approve and 15 of the 24 state senators to go along with it.
Such a Constitutional Amendment is not subject to veto by a governor.
Currently, the lower chamber is almost equally split between Republican and Democrats and the Senate has 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
The move comes a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving those decisions to the states and in a Republican controlled legislative session, set to begin in January which also contains a bill to limit abortion after 15 days of pregnancy.
There are currently no laws in New Hampshire which protect abortion rights, said Kayla Montgomery, vice president for public affairs for Planned Parenthood of New Hampshire Action Fund.
Yet, she said, “We know that a supermajority – 87 percent- of Granite State voters support abortion rights, and they do not believe that the government should interfere with a woman’s ability to make her own personal decisions.”
There are 13 lawmakers who have signed on to sponsor with state Rep. Amanda Toll D-Keene the prime sponsor. Two are Republicans, state Rep. Brandon Phinney, R-Rochester and state Rep. Susan Vandecasteele, R-Salem.
Montgomery noted that in America since that Supreme Court action in June of 2022, 22 states have banned abortion, meaning that now one in three women have lost the right to an abortion in their home states.
Dr. Maris K. Toland, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said access has long been threatened across the country but since the Dobbs decision in 2022, she said doctors have seen a “vast” increase in the restrictions on access.
“Watching these changes unfold over the last 18 months has clearly demonstrated the dangers of government interference in personal health care decisions. As physicians, we go through years of training in order to provide the best options in difficult situations.
“It’s demoralizing to then watch politicians make binding decisions about healthcare access without any medical training,” Toland said.
“There are serious ramifications to legislative interference in health care. How sick does a patient need to be before intervention is allowed? How close to death does a patient need to be before it is considered acceptable to end a pregnancy that could threaten their life? We know that waiting too long to act often only allows an already bad situation to get worse. We should trust doctors.”
She said doctors are leaving states with abortion restrictions making it even more precarious for patients in those states.
Texas is facing suits from 20 women over that state’s recent restrictions to abortion care, Toland noted.
“New Hampshire residents deserve a permanent right to comprehensive reproductive health care without any unnecessary legislative interference,” she said and this measure “shows that New Hampshire trusts its patients and trusts its doctors.”
State Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, one of three senators to co-sponsor the bill, said the reality of post-Roe in America is that the right to an abortion is under direct threat, noting that the proposed 15-day ban would be the most restrictive in America.
She said it is time to remove the public from the personal decisions of others in a doctor’s office.
“Let’s protect the privacy of patient-physician relationships from extremist political agendas and act now to ensure that every individual in New Hampshire has the right to make their own choices about their health and future. Let’s act now to kick politicians out of the exam room,” Rosenwald said.