The Bulletin Board

House lawmakers pass bill adding exceptions to 24-week abortion ban

By: - February 17, 2022 3:36 pm
Sherman Packard

House Speaker Sherman Packard referred the bill to the Finance Committee. (Screenshot)

In a 179-174 vote that overturned a committee recommendation, the House passed legislation Thursday that adds exceptions for rape, incest, and fatal fetal anomalies to the state’s new 24-week abortion ban. 

The bill did not seek to eliminate the felony charges and hefty fines for doctors who violate the law.

Thursday’s vote, however, is not the final word. House Speaker Sherman Packard referred the bill to the Finance Committee because it includes estimated costs for prosecution and data collection. It will then return for a second floor vote.

House Bill 1609 is the one abortion-related bill this session sponsored by all Republicans and backed by Gov. Chris Sununu. 

The version that reached the floor Thursday had been stripped of the exceptions by the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. It retained only language clarifying the ban’s ultrasound requirement. 

The House rejected the committee’s amendment and then tabled the bill in a 176-176 tie vote broken by Packard, a Londonderry Republican. That was followed by a successful request to remove it from the table and vote on the original bill.

Rep. Jerry Knirk, a Freedom Democrat, asked lawmakers to consider the family who learns late in pregnancy that their baby will not survive outside the womb. The current law would prohibit an abortion for that reason, and a doctor who proceeded with an abortion could be imprisoned for up to seven years and fined as much as $100,000.

“This difficult decision should be made by the parents and their provider, not legislators by prohibiting the choice of termination,” he said. “The Life Protection Act forces the mother to carry the pregnancy to term and go through labor and delivery only to deliver a stillborn baby or watch their baby die.” 

Rep. Mark Pearson, a Hampstead Republican who chairs the House committee that amended the bill, argued that women learn of fatal fetal anomalies well before 24 weeks. That’s untrue in many cases because the tests that reveal those conditions are not done until 18 to 22 weeks.

He also pointed to abortion laws in other states that outlaw terminations after 24 weeks or earlier, saying they also do not make exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies and carry felony penalties. He pointed to New York and Massachusetts as examples. Both have dropped their criminal penalties and both make exceptions for babies that cannot survive outside the womb.

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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. Email: [email protected]