The Bulletin Board

Wording of survey question on 24-week abortion ban criticized

By: - June 18, 2021 5:33 pm
Gov. Sununu in a blue shirt speaks behind a lecturn.

Gov. Chris Sununu has repeatedly said he would not veto the budget over the 24-week abortion ban. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images for DraftKings)

The UNH Survey Center’s Granite State Poll, which lawmakers cite as an indicator of public opinion, included a question in Thursday’s survey about the 24-week abortion ban headed to Gov. Chris Sununu. The question did not mention that the ban will require women to get a costly ultrasound and carry to term a dead fetus or one that could not live on its own. 

The question noted only an exception “in cases of a medical emergency.”

Those two aspects of the ban were also not included in the March survey question, which asked respondents if they supported a 24-week ban “unless there is a threat to the health of the mother.” In that survey, 40 percent of respondents “strongly supported” it and 34 percent “strongly opposed” it. The Granite State Poll includes questions purchased by different groups, and results are made available to legislators, members of the executive branch, state officials, and the public. Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, could not be reached for comment on the wording of the question or who purchased it.

Pro-choice advocates are asking whether public opinion would shift if respondents were told about the ultrasound and lack of exception for a fetal anomaly. While 43 states restrict abortion at some point in pregnancy, 13 states make an exception for fetal health, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Only 14 states have an ultrasound mandate in place, according to the Pew Research Center. If Sununu signs the budget with this ban in it, it will be New Hampshire’s first ban on abortion.

“The survey question completely misrepresents how extreme and cruel the abortion ban in the budget actually is,” said Liz Canada, advocacy manager for the Planned Parenthood of New Hampshire Action Fund. “Granite Staters deserve to know the truth: This abortion ban has no exception for fatal fetal anomalies, rape, or incest.” Canada added: “This ban is unconscionable and more extreme than any state that Gov. Sununu continues to mention.”

When Sununu, who identifies as pro-choice, is challenged on his support for the ban, he likens it to Massachusetts’s 24-week ban as evidence that even “liberal states” oppose abortions after 24 weeks. Massachusetts, however, makes an exception for “lethal fetal anomalies” and does not require an ultrasound. Two hundred New Hampshire medical providers registered their opposition in a letter to Sununu this week, citing, among other things, the absence of a fetal health exception.

First, it is not my bill,” Sununu said when asked about the ban at a Tri-City Chamber forum Wednesday. “It is the Legislature’s proposal. And 43 other states have similar clauses, including Massachusetts and New York, who have almost the exact same law. No one is screaming at them.” 

Because the ban is in the state budget, Sununu would have to veto the entire budget to defeat the ban. He has said he will not do that. As a final budget gets closer to his desk, Sununu has faced increasing pressure from pro-choice advocates and public officials, and questions from the media. 

Asked at his weekly press conference Thursday about the ban, Sununu said: “Let’s be very clear, none of this was my proposal, right? It really wasn’t.”

Asked about the absence of the fetal health exception and the ultrasound mandate, Sununu said: “There’s things I love in it and things I don’t, but I’m not going to veto the budget over it.”

Pressed by a reporter to address the ultrasound mandate, Sununu replied: “I’m a pro-choice governor. I support a woman’s right to choose. I’ve always said that. I, as a lot of folks, do not support abortions in months seven, eight, and nine. All these other different provisions, the Legislature put in. I’m not going to veto the budget.”

The ban requires an ultrasound for all abortions, not just those near 24 weeks. Medical providers said it is costly and an unreliable tool to determine the age of a fetus. Sununu was asked at the press conference whether he was concerned about putting additional health costs on women seeking an abortion, especially low-income women. 

“I appreciate this could add potential health care costs; I don’t like that at all,” he said. “But, as I’ve said, I’m not going to veto a $13 billion budget with all the tax cuts and all the other stuff. I mean, there’s so many other pieces to this. That’s one provision, and so I might not love all the details of that provision, but again, the bigger picture, there’s a lot of really positive things for the citizens (in the budget).”

Abortion rights advocates have challenged Sununu on his self-identification as pro-choice given that he has said he will sign the budget with the 24-week ban. Asked about that at the press conference, Sununu said: “I’ve always said that. I’ve always been pro-choice. I have always supported a woman’s right to choose and always supported health care.” 

Sununu also said that during his time on the Executive Council he signed all the federal contracts funding Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. He didn’t. He voted for contracts but also voted against one in 2015, later writing a newspaper column saying that he did so over concerns about an investigation of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood clinics outside of New Hampshire. The allegations, which accused Planned Parenthood of discussing the sale of fetal tissue, were later determined to be unfounded.

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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.