The Bulletin Board

State Democrats call for special legislative session to codify Roe

By: - June 24, 2022 1:24 pm
Woman carrying sign with coat hangers at State House protesting restrictions on abortions

Mary Ruedig of Concord came to a rally at the State House Tuesday protesting restrictions on abortion with a sign adorned with coat hangers, a reference to the dangers of pre-Roe v. Wade at-home abortions. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade does not stop access to abortions under New Hampshire law. But as reactions to the ruling spilled out Friday, many in the state turned immediately to political action.

On Friday, state Democrats called on Gov. Chris Sununu to hold a special legislative session to pass a bill codifying the right to abortion in the state. New Hampshire’s regular legislative calendar concluded in May.

“While this decision is devastating, we cannot give up the fight,” said State Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat. “We implore the Governor to call the Legislature back in for a special session to enshrine the right to safe, legal abortion care here in New Hampshire. We cannot and  will not stop fighting for women’s rights.” 

Sandi Denoncour, executive director of Lovering Health Center in Greenland, an abortion provider, agreed. 

“The elected officials in our state over the next few years will have a significant impact on whether or not full-scope reproductive healthcare is defended and protected,” said Denoncour. “This is not only about abortion. It is not only about protecting those who can become pregnant. This is about protecting the right for all citizens to make their own healthcare choices.”

Even if Sununu declared an emergency session, lawmakers would likely face an uphill battle to pass the abortion rights. Democrats’ attempts to codify protections for abortion rights in the state constitution last session failed. 

The statements came as U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade reverberated across the state Friday. Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, called it a “dark day.” 

“By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has now officially given politicians permission to control what we do with our bodies, deciding that we can no longer be trusted to determine the course for our own lives,” Montgomery said. “This dangerous and chilling decision will have devastating consequences across the country, forcing people to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for care or remain pregnant.”

Some conservatives cheered on the ruling. “Today, life wins and the rule of law has prevailed,” wrote Karoline Leavitt, a Republican candidate for New Hampshire’s first Congressional district.

Friday’s decision came at an already fraught time for abortion debates in the state. After decades of little to no restrictions on abortion access in New Hampshire, Sununu signed a bill in 2021 banning abortions in the state after 24 weeks. This year, the Legislature amended that ban to add an exemption for fatal fetal anomalies detected after that cutoff time. The exemptions do not apply for rape and incest victims. 

Republican political leaders – including Sununu– said Friday that the state’s abortion laws should remain unchanged. 

“While today’s ruling returning complete authority over abortion back to the states where it belongs is a great triumph for Federalism, it does nothing to change the accessibility of these services in New Hampshire,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, of Auburn, Friday.

Gov. Chris Sununu emphasized that point in his own statement Friday.

“Regardless of this Supreme Court decision, access to these services will continue to remain safe, accessible, and legal in New Hampshire,” Sununu said. 

But American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire Executive Director Devon Chaffee said she expected attempts would be made nonetheless.

“I have been doing advocacy in this state on reproductive rights for just about a decade now, and every single year, we have seen attempts to roll back the ability to access abortion in this state,” she said in a press conference. “And I don’t think it’s likely that’s going to change in the coming years.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.