Republican candidate for governor Kelly Ayotte turned the tables on Democrats over the abortion issue Tuesday, declaring their claims of a Granite State abortion ban “just not true” and challenging the fundamental premise of their attacks on the GOP.

Abortion has been at the center of New Hampshire politics for years, and the state has not elected a pro-life governor in decades. Abortion politics are even more heated in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year giving control back to the states. Many political experts believe it was a key reason Republicans had one of the worst out-of-power mid-term elections in history in 2022.

New Hampshire Democrats and their allies greeted the entrance of both Ayotte and former state Senate President Chuck Morse into the governor’s race with statements calling them “extreme MAGA Republicans” who support “abortion bans.”

Asked about the attacks by radio host Jack Heath Tuesday, Ayotte said that on the abortion issue in New Hampshire, “Democrats love to spread falsehoods.”

“There is no abortion ban in New Hampshire. They’ve put that forward, and it’s just not true. And it’s actually dangerous for women’s health. Our current law actually aligns us with a majority of the states in addressing late-term abortion,” Ayotte said.

New Hampshire allows abortion without any restrictions for the first six months of pregnancy (24 weeks). After that, abortions are prohibited, but with exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, the mother’s physical health, and the mother’s life. According to polls, it is a position supported by around 70 percent of Americans.

Republicans like Ayotte argue Democrats embrace the phrase “abortion ban” intentionally, hoping to confuse voters into believing all abortion is illegal in the Granite State. It would be akin to accusing Democrats like gubernatorial candidates Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of supporting a “ban on guns” because they both want to end the sale of so-called “assault weapons.” While it could be argued as technically true — they want to ban some guns — it would be fundamentally false and misleading, Republicans say.

Even left-leaning NHPR is careful to use the phrase “24-week ban” when reporting on New Hampshire’s abortion law.

As for actual abortion bans, Ayotte and Morse both support the state’s current law. So does Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, another possible GOP candidate for governor. He told the news site The Messenger, “New Hampshire voters kind of spoke out on this already. We have put a law in place which seems to meet the needs of many of the voters across the state of New Hampshire, and so I am supportive of that because I want to support the citizens of New Hampshire.”

“Chuck Morse led the effort to restrict late-term abortion after 24 weeks except for the life of the mother, which the vast majority of N.H. voters support,” said Morse campaign advisor David Carney. “The Democrats have no other issues in their playbook, and this phony attack will fail.”

Phony or not, Republican strategists believe New Hampshire Democrats have succeeded in misleading many Granite State voters into believing abortions have been largely banned in the state. That is a double benefit for Democrats, said GOP communications professional Patrick Hynes. It allows them to attack Republicans on a position most GOP candidates don’t hold while avoiding any discussion of the policy embraced by Democrats like Craig and Warmington — unlimited abortion up to the day of birth.

Republicans must fight back, Hynes says.

“It is absolutely imperative that every serious Republican running for high office in New Hampshire record an ad that features them in an intimate setting explaining their position on abortion in plain language and then transitioning to the extremist position of the Democratic candidate,” Hynes told NHJournal. “Voters must hear directly from candidates in a heartfelt, honest way that recognizes the seriousness of the issue and how much thought they have put into their position.”

NHJournal asked Craig, Warmington, and the state Democratic Party about Ayotte’s allegation that they are misleading voters and spreading falsehoods. They all declined to respond.

In 2014, then-Sen. Ayotte supported the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life.

State Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead), a pro-life Republican, says her party needs to “walk and chew gum” on the issue. Don’t avoid it, but don’t feed the Democrats’ false framing of the debate, either.

“Voters are worried about putting food on the table, gas in their cars, heat in the winter, homelessness, and the fentanyl killing our citizens,” Birdsell said. “And yet abortion is where the Democrats’ focus has been for almost four years. All our gubernatorial candidates should denounce the scare tactics of the left and push back.”