The Bulletin Board

Abortion rights advocates sound the alarm about new restrictions, looming threats

By: - November 29, 2021 1:58 pm
A sign outside of a health center that says "Civility, compassion, love"

Dalia Vidunas, executive director of the Equality Health Center in Concord, said people have been very generous supporting the center’s work but “it’s still just not going to be enough.” (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

In less than a year, the nonprofit Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire has raised and spent over $50,000 helping more than 160 Granite State women pay for abortions they couldn’t afford. The nonprofit’s founder and other abortion rights advocates are sounding the alarm about two threats that go beyond financial barriers: the January start of the state’s 24-week abortion ban and the legal challenge to Roe v. Wade going before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday.

“Over 20 states will immediately pass abortion restrictions (if Roe is overturned),” said Josie Pinto, who left her job as a health worker at the Equality Health Center in 2019 to start the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire. Following months of fundraising, the organization began helping women with abortion fees in February, which average about $500.

“We are going to have a political climate nationally that is going to encourage (states) to be stricter with abortion restrictions,” Pinto said. “I do anticipate having pretty tough challenges this session.”

Proposed legislation headed before lawmakers in January includes banning abortions at about six weeks and permitting the father of an unborn child to seek a court injunction stopping the abortion. Competing legislation will seek to eliminate the 24-week ban, which offers no exceptions for rape, incest, or a nonviable fetus; requires an ultrasound before all abortions; and includes prison sentences and fines for doctors who violate the law.

Also sharing concerns this week is the state’s federal delegation. In a press conference Monday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen recalled her college years, before the Roe decision, when friends had no options other than illegal abortions. Overturning that decision and continuing to restrict access to safe, affordable reproductive care will hurt not just women but also their families, Shaheen said. 

“If you want to see a revolution, go ahead, outlaw Roe v. Wade, and see what the response is of the public, particularly young people,” she said. “Because I think that will not be acceptable to young women or young men.” 

Pinto and leaders at the state’s main abortion providers – Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the Lovering Health Center, and the Equality Health Center – said they got a glimpse of that “revolution” following passage of the abortion ban and votes by state Republicans to defund their centers. Donations went up, staving off cuts to low-cost care – temporarily, they said.  

“Even though people have been very generous since all of this has happened, it’s still just not going to be enough, and we will have to pass that cost on to our patients,” said Dalia Vidunas, executive director of the Equality Health Center in Concord.

Vidunas and Sandi Denoncour, executive director of the Lovering Health Center in Greeland, said patients have expressed relief since the ban’s passage at being able to have an abortion without state restrictions. Vidunas said she’s also seen anger. One patient came to the clinic with research showing that abortions have been performed for over 4,000 years, she said. 

“We’ve been downtrodden for over 4,000 years,” Vidunas recalled the woman saying. “Can’t they just stop? Can’t we just rely on our own bodies? Can’t we just finally be trusted that we know what we need to do for ourselves?”

Rep. Annie Kuster echoed that anger during Monday’s press conference, calling an abortion ban like New Hampshire’s that does not have exceptions a mandate.

“If you don’t like a mandate about masks or vaccines, how about a mandate for pregnancy?” she said. “This governor would mandate that a woman carry a baby to term even if that fetus has died. It’s just truly extraordinary. And it’s a major step backwards.” 

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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.