Ripples of new Texas abortion law make their way to New Hampshire

By: - September 8, 2021 6:20 am
Pro-choice protesters hold up signs

The providers that left the Title X program during the Trump administration must now reapply. (Getty Images)

A six-week abortion ban, similar to the one that is now law in Texas, didn’t make it out of the Democratic-controlled New Hampshire House in 2020. Its sponsors say they’ll refile it, hopeful the passage this year of a 24-week ban indicates new support for even stricter abortion restrictions.

And one of them, Rep. Walter Stapleton, a Claremont Republican, said he could also back a second piece of Texas’s law that rewards United States citizens $10,000 and attorney’s fees if they sue an abortion provider and others who help a woman end her pregnancy.

“I don’t see any problem with it,” Stapleton said. 

House members can’t file proposed legislation for the 2022 session until next week, and senators must wait until October. Abortion rights advocates aren’t waiting. They began mounting a fight even before Gov. Chris Sununu signed the 24-week ban in June and said that opposition has become more urgent in light of the Texas law, which took effect this month.

In a Zoom roundtable with Congressman Chris Pappas Tuesday, Tanna Clews, chief executive officer of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, called the Texas law a “wake-up call.” And Kayla Montgomery of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said that organization aims to defeat new abortion restrictions and repeal the 24-week ban, which requires ultrasounds before abortions at any stage and imposes criminal penalties against abortion providers. The law also allows the mother, the father of the fetus (if the father is married to the mother), and the mother’s parents (if she is under 18) to file a lawsuit for physical and psychological injuries, but the law does not say against whom.

“It’s very clear that we have our work cut out for us here in New Hampshire and across our country,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to fight at every level from city council all the way up. This is a fight that is far from over, as we’ve seen.”

Asked whether Sununu would sign an abortion law similar to the one passed in Texas, spokesman Ben Vihstadt said in an email: “The governor would not sign a bill further restricting abortions or overturning Roe. v. Wade. He is a pro-choice governor, who like many Granite Staters opposes late-term abortions in months seven, eight, and nine of a pregnancy.”

The proposed six-week ban filed in 2020 by Stapleton and Rep. Dave Testerman, a Franklin Republican, was voted inexpedient to legislate that year 194-91, primarily along party lines. Testerman said Tuesday that he intends to reintroduce the legislation but isn’t ready to support allowing citizens to enforce it with lawsuits as they can in Texas.

“One part that I’m a little bit hesitant on is making everybody a vigilante,” he said. “I would have some difficulty with that.” He also has difficulty with the new 24-week ban. 

“I think that was probably a compromise for some people,” he said. “I can support it because it’s something. But I think fetal homicide is breaking the law, and I think 24 weeks wasn’t enough.”

Whether more restrictive abortion legislation would succeed next year is uncertain. 

Rep. Jim Creighton, an Antrim Republican who co-sponsored this year’s legislation banning the use of public money for abortions, said Tuesday he hasn’t studied the new Texas law but also doesn’t see a need to. “I think what we passed banning state funding to pay for abortions and the 24-week piece were appropriate,” he said. “I think for the state of New Hampshire, that is right. That’s what we should focus on.”

Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican who negotiated the House’s position on abortion restrictions with the Senate, also thinks a ban at 24 weeks is appropriate for New Hampshire. He accused opponents of using the Texas law to raise confusion about the limits of New Hampshire’s restrictions. 

“I think they’re doing a grave injustice by going around and saying that we’ve eliminated choice in New Hampshire and making it sound like we passed a Texas-style ban,” he said.

Asked if he would vote for a six-week ban, Edwards said, “I want to keep attention on the 24-week ban, and that’s what we chose.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.