CONCORD, N.H. — In a party line vote, the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee voted against two reproductive rights bills Tuesday that had cleared the House in March with the support of Republican lawmakers.
Those bills failed to gain the support of Republicans on the Senate committee, who voted 3-2 to oppose the bills.
House Bill 88 would affirm the right to abortion for up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in state law, while House Bill 224 would remove the threat of criminal and civil punishments for doctors who provide an abortion after 24 weeks. New Hampshire currently has a ban on abortion after 24 weeks, although there are exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies and to protect the life of the mother. Medical providers testified to the committee that criminal and civil punishments are harmful and prevent them from making the best medical decisions possible for their patients.
“We should not have Draconian threats hanging over our doctors,” Representative Dan Wolf, a Newbury Republican, told the Senate panel last week when they heard testimony on HB 224, a bill he sponsored. “We need to do everything we can to attract and retain care providers, not deter them from moving here.”
Dr. Danielle Albushies, who works with the New Hampshire Medical Society, testified that threatening doctors with a felony for providing health care also negatively impacts patients. For instance, in treating a mother who is bleeding from the uterus, she said a doctor would delay care to make sure they are not violating the law which could result in more harm to the patient.
A variety of anti-abortion religious groups testified against the bills, including the NH Knights of Columbus and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.
“If this bill passes, you will have innocent blood on your hands,” Joan Espanola of Londonderry told lawmakers.
While the committee recommended killing the bills, they will still go before the full Senate for a vote. Republicans in the Senate have a wider margin than the closely divided House, with a 14 to 10 majority over Democrats, although Senator Bill Gannon, a Sandown Republican, who normally serves on the Judiciary Committee, has been absent for recent votes.
Senator Ruth Ward, a Stoddard Republican, voted in his place Tuesday. Senator Daryl Abbas and Senator Sharon Carson, the other Republicans on the committee, both voted against the bills.
Both Democrats spoke in favor of the bills. Senator Becky Whitley, a Contoocook Democrat, said the vote against the bills was disappointing given the federal judge’s ruling in Texas against the drug mifepristone. “It was a particularly troubling week for abortion access,” she said.
On Wednesday, the ACLU of N.H. asked Governor Chris Sununu to intervene in a related case from Washington state in order to preserve access to mifepristone in New Hampshire. A federal judge in Washington prohibited the FDA from removing access to mifepristone, but the order only applies to the 17 states and District of Columbia involved in litigation.
“It is extremely concerning that an FDA-approved drug that has been used for decades can be taken off the market unilaterally by one judge,” Sununu said Monday, adding that abortion issues should be left to the states and not an unelected judge.
“We urge Governor Sununu to put action behind his stated concern and move to intervene in the Washington lawsuit, which would seek to allow Granite Staters to receive the same court protections as the states currently involved in the lawsuit,” said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU of N.H. in a written statement.
“We are incredibly disappointed in Governor Sununu and his administration for not joining that coalition of Attorneys General,” said Liz Canada, advocacy manager at Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, speaking at a press event Monday. “And to be clear, New Hampshire has not taken any proactive steps since Roe v. Wade was overturned as a state to protect abortion access in New Hampshire.”
The full Senate could vote on the reproductive rights bills as early as this Thursday, when it is next scheduled to meet.
This article has been updated to include comments from Planned Parenthood and the ALCU of N.H.