The Bulletin Board

With high court poised to overturn Roe, N.H. legislation protecting abortion access remains tabled

By: - May 3, 2022 12:01 pm

Demonstrators on both sides of the abortion debate protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in December. (Jane Norman | States Newsroom)

This story was updated May 3, 2022 at 3:45 p.m. to include a comment from Gov. Chris Sununu.

As the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and delegate abortion law to states, New Hampshire lawmakers have blocked legislation that would enshrine abortion rights in state statute. If a bill reaches his desk, Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday he would sign it “in a second,” according to his spokesman.

The draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, confirmed by the court on Tuesday, says that states, not the court, should decide whether abortion remains legal and under what circumstances. 

But the Legislature has halted the two bills, Senate Bill 436 and House Bill 1674, and a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prevented the state from restricting access to abortion in New Hampshire. 

All have been laid on the table by either the House or Senate. Passing either at this point in the session would require a two-thirds vote by both chambers.

Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed the state’s new 24-week abortion ban last year, issued a statement Tuesday morning in response to the draft opinion. He argued that a bill that would partially pare back the new abortion ban (House Bill 1609) “expands access.”

“As a pro-choice governor, I am committed to upholding Roe v. Wade, which is why I am proud of the bipartisan bill headed to my desk this year that expands access,” he said. “So long as I am governor, these health care services for women will remain safe and legal.”

Asked about the statement Tuesday, Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England/Planned Parenthood NH Action Fund, did not characterize the bill as an expansion of access.  

“To be clear, it was Gov. Sununu who signed New Hampshire’s first abortion ban in modern New Hampshire history just last year,” she said at a press conference.

The bill would add an exception to the 24-week abortion ban for fetuses that would not survive outside the womb. The law makes exceptions only for a mother’s life or health. Efforts to add exceptions for rape and incest and remove the criminal and civil penalties for physicians who violate the law have failed this session.

Asked if the governor would support protecting abortion access in state law, his spokesman Ben Vihstadt sent a comment Sununu made at an event Tuesday: “If the Legislature sent a bill codifying Roe v. Wade, I would sign it in a second.”

Other bills seeking to repeal the 24-week ban – Senate Bill 399 and House Bill 1673 – were amended to clarify only when an ultrasound must be performed prior to an abortion.

In July, the University of New Hampshire Survey Center said its polling showed that the new 24-week ban is “unpopular” with Granite Staters, with one-third of respondents supporting it. More than half – 56 percent – said they strongly (49 percent) or somewhat (7 percent) oppose it. 

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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]