The conventional wisdom on the politics of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning Roe v. Wade is simple: Abortion is a winning issue for Democrats in New Hampshire and a loser for the GOP.
But if that’s the case, why are Granite State Democrats struggling so mightily to answer questions about their abortion policy?
Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye) appeared on WMUR on Sunday to talk about his race against Gov. Chris Sununu. Sherman has repeatedly denounced Sununu for “signing New Hampshire’s first modern abortion ban,” a reference to the law passed last year restricting late-term abortions (after 24 weeks). Sherman voted against the late-term limit, urging instead for the state to keep its abortion-without-restriction policy.
However, when asked by WMUR’s Adam Sexton if he wants to see that ban repealed, Sherman declined to give a straightforward answer.
“I would want to put in place Roe v. Wade in the state of New Hampshire,” Sherman said, adding “New Hampshire does not want the state in between a doctor and a patient, especially on such an intensely private issue.”
Sherman appears to be saying he wants no limits on legal abortion, but it is not clear. Sexton tried again: “What about repealing the 24-week ban?” Again, a less-than-clear response.
“If Roe v. Wade was in place, we wouldn’t need the 24-week ban.”
It’s difficult to parse what this answer even means. Is Sherman saying he believes Roe banned abortions after 24 weeks? Or that codifying Roe would end all abortion restrictions? (Neither is factually correct.)
Presented with his answer by NHJournal, pro-life advocate Shannon McGinley at Cornerstone Action was also confused. “What Sen. Sherman said makes no sense. That sentence is so incoherent it’s not even wrong.”
In the WMUR interview, Sexton tried a third time:
“Do you believe there is any point in which the fetus should have a right to live,” Sexton asked.
“I think Roe v. Wade recognizes viability,” Sherman answered. “There are also exceptions which have to do with the woman’s — whether the woman can survive. Some of the states in the country have put in such tight restrictions that a woman’s life may be in jeopardy because of the inability to terminate the pregnancy.
“So we need to let the doctors and women work together to make those incredibly tough personal decisions,” Sherman said.
So, what exactly is Sherman’s position? His campaign would not respond to repeated inquiries.
Sherman is hardly the only New Hampshire Democrat struggling with the basics of abortion law and Roe v. Wade. During a May 15 appearance on WMUR, Shaheen simultaneously attacked the state’s late-term abortion ban while insisting that late-term abortions were already banned in New Hampshire by Roe.
Ask if, during the third trimester, “there is, at any point, a compelling legal interest in protecting the nascent human life in the womb,” Shaheen insisted that “under Roe, [third-trimester abortion] is not allowed — unless you’re talking about the life of the mother.”
This is factually untrue. And given that her own state allowed third-trimester abortions for any reason until just a year ago, Shaheen’s statement is also difficult to understand.
In fact, she signed the 1997 law repealing New Hampshire’s anti-abortion statutes without replacing them with any new legislation. She literally left abortion virtually unrestricted in the Granite State — a fact she touted with a 25th-anniversary press release last week — while claiming late-term abortions “were not allowed.”
Shaheen also struggled to accurately describe the Women’s Health Protection Act she and Sen. Maggie Hassan have voted for twice in the past year. She told Sexton the WHPA only allows abortion “up to viability.”
Again, that is factually untrue. As John McCormack, who covers the abortion issue for National Review reports, “The WHPA is a sweeping bill that effectively creates a federal right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy (through an expansive post-viability ‘health’ exception that would include mental and emotional health). It would also strike down almost all state laws on abortion.”
In fact, McCormack notes, “the WHPA would create a federal right to sex-selective abortions — that is, abortions that (typically) target unborn baby girls simply because they are girls.”
It is also noteworthy that Hassan has given similar inaccurate and hard-to-follow answers to direct questions about her opposition to the late-term abortion ban as well.
There are two aspects to this trend.
First, if abortion really were the political slam dunk Democratic strategists say, why aren’t these Democrats embracing it whole-heartedly? Instead of repeating the “Roe v. Wade” mantra, why not clearly state what they have repeatedly voted for: Unrestricted abortion at any point during pregnancy?
Perhaps that is because new polls have come out since the Dobbs ruling clearly showing most voters do not support the abortion extremism New Hampshire Democrats have embraced. For example, a new Harvard/Harris poll finds 55 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe, but 72 percent support a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
A poll of New Hampshire voters taken a few weeks after the Dobbs draft leaked found 62 percent support the current 24-week ban or want one that is more restrictive.
Are Democrats starting to realize that, if they can’t make the conversation about GOP abortion extremism in other states, it may not be a winner here in New Hampshire?
Then there is the inability of these Democrats to talk about the issue while adhering to the facts. Trying to skate by with these dubious claims in a short TV interview is one thing (credit to Sexton for his on-point followups), but imagine doing it during a televised debate? Obviously, Hassan plans to hammer her GOP opponent on Roe and the abortion policies of Mississippi and Missouri. But what happens if she denies the facts about the WHPA, or claims that late-term abortion was banned before the ban Sununu signed that she now opposes?
Her Republican opponent will have a field day, live on TV. The same for U.S. Reps. Pappas and Kuster, too.
Republicans are never going to win the abortion issue in New Hampshire. But if Democrats stick to their current script, the GOP won’t lose because of it, either.