CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire House defeated three abortion bills today -- two would have introduced new restrictions on abortion, while a third sought to add an affirmative right to abortion into state law.
State debate on the topic has been supercharged ever since the fall of Roe v. Wade about a year ago, which left it up to states to decide how to regulate abortion.
Attendance is key in the closely divided House, where two additional Republicans were sworn in Wednesday after winning special elections in the North Country in January. That brings the balance of power to 200 Republicans, 195 Democrats, 3 independents, and 2 vacancies.
Today, the House voted down House Bill 1541, which would add restrictions to abortions performed “after viability or 15 weeks gestation,” requiring they be performed at a hospital with a premature birth intensive care unit and under the supervision of a second physician who would be instructed “to preserve the life of the unborn child.” That would exclude clinics like Planned Parenthood. Most abortions are currently performed in clinics; nationally, only 1 percent occur in hospitals, according to the Abortion Care Network.
A spokesperson for the New Hampshire Hospital Association said it does not have any data about the number of hospitals with intensive care units in the state.
“Such rules would be impossible to interpret or implement and would be costly and cause grave harm to women, families, and our medical community,” wrote Representative Eric Turer, a Brentwood Democrat, in a note explaining the Judiciary Committee’s 17-1 recommendation that the House kill the bill.
Lawmakers unanimously defeated the bill Thursday on a voice vote without any discussion.
A proposal to put abortion rights into the state constitution, on the other hand, was hotly debated on the House floor, although it ultimately failed to reach the three-fifths majority it needed to advance to the Senate, securing 193 votes in favor and 184 votes in opposition. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.
There’s a higher threshold for passing a constitutional amendment than a regular bill, since it requires a three-fifths vote in both chambers before it would be put to voters during the election in November.
CACR 23 would grant an affirmative right to abortion up to 24 weeks gestation. It would place control of abortion decisions after 24 weeks with doctors, unlike the current law, which bans most abortions after 24 weeks and only provides exceptions if the health of the mother is at risk or the fetus has a fatal diagnosis.
Representative Amanda Elizabeth Toll, a Keene Democrat spoke in support of the amendment, addressing the House with her week-old baby daughter in her arms.
“When I was a teenager, I accessed abortion care that has allowed me to go to college, to graduate school, to receive an MEd, to teach, and to be a state representative,” she said. “It allowed me to have my children when I was ready, both physically and emotionally, including the baby girl I gave birth to just last week.”
She said reproductive rights should not be up for debate every session and voters should have a chance to weigh in.
Those opposed argued the bill was unnecessary and vague. “Abortion is already legal in New Hampshire and women already have the freedom and reproductive liberty to make these decisions with their health care providers,” said Representative Katelyn Kuttab, a Windham Republican.
She said it could allow for abortions “right up until birth simply because a woman wanted one and a doctor felt it was necessary to honor that wish,” she said.
Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said it was encouraging to see lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support the measure in a written statement released after the vote.
“We know that the vast majority of Granite Staters want their state lawmakers to protect abortion rights, and we appreciate the bipartisan effort in the House today,” she said.
The House Judiciary committee was split on the bill. Those in favor said keeping lawmakers out of medical decisions is a libertarian New Hampshire tradition, while detractors said the state’s current laws about abortion shouldn’t be changed and that the update is vague and could allow abortion up until birth just because a woman wanted one and found a doctor who would comply.
And finally, the House voted 363 to 11 to kill House Bill 1248, the proposed ban on abortion after 15 days gestation (not weeks). The vote was to “indefinitely postpone” the bill, which means lawmakers are barred from revisiting the topic for the remainder of the two-year session. The bill received national attention even as top New Hampshire Republicans said there was no chance of it passing. The bill arrives with a 19-1 recommendation that the House kill the bill.
“There is no reason to believe that the people of NH support this bill,” wrote Representative Zoe Manos, a Concord Democrat, in the committee report.
This story first appeared in Globe NH | Morning Report, our free newsletter focused on the news you need to know about New Hampshire, including great coverage from the Boston Globe and links to interesting articles from other places. To get it via e-mail Monday through Friday, sign up here.
This story has been updated to include the results of the votes.