By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The House failed to move forward a proposed constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights Thursday, but resoundingly defeated a bill banning abortion after 15 days of pregnancy.
With the US Supreme Court’s overturning the Roe vs Wade decision, supporters of the proposed amendment – CACR 23 – said the state needs to ensure women have reproductive rights that are not subject to multiple bills every session to limit their rights.
“We believe in limited government in this state,” said Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham. “At the moment (the law) says 24 weeks is on the books but we have several bills on the calendar today to change that.”
She said she loves the legislature, but “400 of us do not fit in a doctor’s office and we should not be there, only the people she chooses should be invited into that room.”
Holding her week-old baby in her arms, Rep. Amanda Toll, D-Keene, said she had an abortion earlier in her life allowing her to attend college, receive a master’s degree to teach and to serve as a state representative.
“And it allowed me to have more children when I was ready,” she said, “including this baby I gave birth to last week.”
But she said the landscape for reproductive rights has shifted dramatically with the US Supreme Court decision leaving one in three women without access to abortion in their home states.
“I trust the patient and I trust doctors and I trust the people of New Hampshire,” Toll said. “The decision should be in the hands of patients and physicians, not politicians.”
Opponents said state law protects reproductive rights up until the 24th week of pregnancy, and the current statute has widespread support. And they said the proposed amendment is flawed.
Rep. Katelyn Kuttub, R-Windham, said the state law guarantees abortion rights up to 24 weeks of pregnancy with exemptions for fatal fetal anomaly and if the life of the mother is at risk.
The proposed amendment says everyone has a unilateral right to abortion, she noted, and asked if that means a father can determine a woman he impregnated has to have an abortion so he can avoid responsibility.
Kuttub said the language is also very vague and would appear to allow a woman to seek an abortion up to birth and a doctor may feel he has to honor her wishes.
“There is no reason to put this amendment into our constitution,” Kuttub said.
Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, said the current law allowing abortions until the 24th week of pregnancy has widespread public support.
“There is no threat to abortion rights in this state despite rhetoric to the contrary,” he said. “Granite staters value personal freedom and liberty above all else and do not want to be involved in the most private decision a woman can make with a doctor and her loved ones.”
The proposed amendment failed to meet the three-fifth majority needed at 193-184.
The House was quite clear a little later in the session it did not want to entertain a near full abortion ban.
House Bill 2148 would ban abortion after the 15th day of pregnancy, when many women would not know they are pregnant.
Without debate, the House voted 316-11 to indefinitely postpone the bill, which means it cannot come back for the remainder of the current two-year term.
The House voted 341-24 to kill another proposed constitutional amendment. CACR 20 would have the state begin secession proceedings if the national debt reaches $40 trillion.
The national debt is currently at about $34 trillion.
The vote was also to indefinitely postpone the resolution so it cannot come before the House for the remainder of the term.
Unmarked Police Cars
The House overturned its Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and approved a bill to prohibit municipal police departments from using unmarked or stealth police vehicles.
House Bill 1237 passed after a motion to kill the bill failed on a 213-162 vote.
Bill supporters said it would be a good first step to return respect to the local police department and would reduce incidents of women not knowing whether to stop or not when a policeman in an unmarked car is behind her.
But opponents said it creates unintended consequences like if police in unmarked cars would be able to enforce traffic laws such as for reckless operations, and does more to serve those who want to avoid detection when they break traffic laws.
The House did approve one proposed constitutional amendment, CACR 13, which would prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude in New Hampshire.
The resolution easily cleared the three-fifth majority needed on the 366-5 vote.
The resolution now goes to the Senate where it will need a three-fifth majority to be placed on the next general election ballot.
The resolution will need a two-thirds majority to change the constitution.
House Bill 1179 was approved to allow retired members of the armed forces and their spouses to use the New Hampshire State Park System facilities for free during the day.
The House failed to reconsider its actions last month approving House Bill 396, which would allow the state to recognize and separate people based on their biological sex in three areas: public toilet facilities, sports, and correctional institutions.
Supporters said last month the separation is allowed in certain areas under federal law such as college athletics where the separate but equal doctrine applies and with privacy rights like in a public restroom.
But opponents argued the bill was stepping back from civil rights the state sought to enshrine just five years ago by a Republican controlled legislature and governor.
Reconsideration failed on a 190-187 vote.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com. Garry is InDepthNH.org’s State House bureau chief with 40 years of reporting experience.