Commentary: Sununu wrongly equates New Hampshire abortion ban with Massachusetts law

January 7, 2022 4:53 am
State flag and the State House dome

Some lawmakers have inserted misinformation into the debate over the state’s abortion ban. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

I proudly grew up in the Granite State; the “Live Free Or Die” mantra is etched on my psyche. Now, as a Massachusetts resident, I cringe every time I hear New Hampshire elected officials disparage those of us “south of the border.” The irony, however, is that these same politicians point to Massachusetts to justify unpopular actions – most recently a cruel abortion ban and ultrasound mandate. 

I’ve lost track of the times Gov. Chris Sununu has falsely tried to equate his abortion ban with the statute in, as he says, “liberal” Massachusetts. Of course, he also refers to himself as “pro-choice” – but just because he says something repeatedly doesn’t make it true.

Here’s the truth: Effective Jan. 1, 2022, New Hampshire became one of five states that bans abortion at 24 weeks. The other four are Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. However, there are big differences between the New Hampshire and Massachusetts statutes that Gov. Sununu fails to acknowledge. In Massachusetts, there are important exceptions for cases of lethal fetal diagnosis. New Hampshire’s law does not have that provision.

Further, in 2020, the people and elected leaders of Massachusetts came together to reform outdated abortion laws and improve access to care. In addition to removing barriers to care later in pregnancy and ensuring 16- and 17-year-olds no longer need a judge’s permission to have an abortion, Massachusetts eliminated all criminal penalties associated with laws related to abortion – another difference between the two states. In New Hampshire, medical providers are threatened with up to seven years in prison. This criminalization of doctors negatively impacts the broader landscape of maternal/fetal health care delivery. This should be of immense concern in a state that already experiences maternity care deserts; it will not help us attract and retain OB/GYNs. 

Abortion bans are cruel and should be overturned wherever they exist. Every pregnancy is different and every circumstance is unique. Everyone should have access to the health care they need, when they need it. Instead, these abortion bans substitute politics and shame for professional and compassionate medical judgment, taking away options for families in complex circumstances and undermining the expertise of medical providers. 

Gov. Sununu’s abortion ban also contains the antithesis of Granite State values: a government mandate. This mandate states that all people seeking abortion care must first have an ultrasound – even if it is not medically necessary. Massachusetts’ law does not contain that costly and invasive provision. In fact, on Jan. 1, New Hampshire became the only state in the Northeast to have an ultrasound mandate.

This didn’t have to happen. During the budget process, a state senator attempted to remove the ultrasound mandate, but the committee refused to take a vote. Instead, one male legislator doubled down, claiming that, by seeing an ultrasound, a woman would make “better decisions.” 

Public outcry rightly increased over Gov. Sununu’s abortion ban and ultrasound mandate as the implementation date approached, and he has shifted to say he would consider efforts to add exceptions to the abortion ban and repeal the ultrasound mandate. I’m sure he will try to take credit for “fixing” what he has broken. However, regardless of how quickly lawmakers work as the Legislature reconvenes to right this wrong, these measures have still taken effect. Real Granite Staters will be needlessly harmed because of the reckless actions of the Legislature and governor this past year. The governor’s comments now are too little, too late. 

Let’s be clear: adding exceptions or repealing only the ultrasound requirement is not enough. New Hampshire’s abortion ban should be repealed in full. When people are making personal medical decisions with their doctor, one-size-fits-all laws like New Hampshire’s abortion ban don’t work.

For a state that prides itself on “doing things better in the 603,” it is incredibly disappointing that New Hampshire politicians are currently in a race to the bottom when it comes to reproductive rights. In the New Year, with the future of abortion access at risk nationwide, I hope my home state resolves to return to its roots of freedom above all else, including the freedom to make personal, private medical decisions – without government interference. 

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Jennifer Childs-Roshak
Jennifer Childs-Roshak

Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak is a New Hampshire native, family doctor, and the president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts.