Abortion remains legal in New Hampshire up through the 24 weeks of pregnancy despite the worry that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
The fallout continues from Politico’s leak of a February draft opinion in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that would overturn the 50-year-old Roe legal framework, sending the questions of abortion back to the states.
Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed into law a late-term abortion ban (it allows unrestricted abortion for the first 24 of pregnancy) said Tuesday he stands by Roe v. Wade.
“As a pro-choice governor, I am committed to upholding Roe v. Wade, which is why I am proud of the bipartisan bill headed to my desk this year that expands access. So long as I am governor, these health care services for women will remain safe and legal,” he said in a statement out Tuesday.
Last year, as the Supreme Court was hearing the arguments in Dobbs, NH Journal asked Sununu if he would take action to protect abortion rights if the Supreme Court overturned the Roe decision. At the time, Sununu scoffed at the idea that Roe was on the docket.
“I’m not really paying attention to that case,” Sununu said. “It’s not an overturn of Roe v Wade, it’s about viability.”
Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed Tuesday that the draft written by Justice Samuel Alito is authentic. However, he added early drafts are common in the Supreme Court’s work and do not necessarily reflect the final outcome. According to the draft, there are five votes in favor of reversing the controversial 1973 ruling that created a constitutional right to abortion within a complex framework of viability.
The ruling is expected to be released sometime in June, though some legal scholars are urging the court to release its decision now in response to the unprecedented leak.
New Hampshire is the only New England state that does not explicitly protect the right to abortion in state law. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island all have laws on the books affirming access to abortion. New Hampshire, on the other hand, had no restrictions on abortion at any point in a pregnancy when the new law was signed, one of the most extreme pro-abortion states in the country. Connecticut has had abortion rights as law since the 1990s, while the other states passed laws in the past three years as a hedge against a possible Roe reversal.
Now that Roe is in danger, Granite State political leaders are lining up to stake out a position. State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, who is running to unseat Sununu, sent a fundraising email Tuesday implying Sununu wants to ban all abortions.
“Gov. Sununu has already shown he can’t be trusted to stand up for women’s right to make their own medical decisions,” the email states.
Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, who has been criticized for her flip-flops on border security and oil production, stuck to the party line on abortion, saying Tuesday she supports passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would assure women the right to access to abortion while taking away the right of states to set limits.
“The unconfirmed SCOTUS opinion would be devastating for women’s freedom,” Hassan said on Twitter. “With a woman’s right to live as a free and equal citizen under attack, Congress needs to codify Roe v. Wade now more than ever.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced plans to push for a vote on a bill that would give unlimited access to abortions and override the original Roe decision.
“This is not an abstract exercise. This is urgent,” Schumer said on Twitter. “We will vote on protecting a woman’s right to choose, and every American is going to see which side every senator stands on.”
Ian Huyett, an attorney with the Christian advocacy organization, Cornerstone, said the proposed federal legislation that Schumer and Hassan want to pass would eliminate New Hampshire’s 24-week ban.
“No state laws would be allowed except when there is no ‘less restrictive alternative’ which would advance ‘the safety of abortion services,’” he said,
State Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem), who is running in the GOP primary to challenge Hassan, said he would work to keep New Hampshire’s abortion law in place.
“I’m proud of my pro-life record in the New Hampshire state Senate. Last year we settled the law in New Hampshire that permits abortions in the first six months while banning late-term and partial-birth abortions in the last 12 weeks of pregnancy – a policy that the vast majority of Granite Staters support. This potential decision will have no impact on New Hampshire. We will wait to see what the Supreme Court ultimately decides, but I strongly believe that the states should have the right to govern policy in their respective states as this draft opinion would ensure,” Morse said in a statement released by his campaign.
Bruce Fenton, another GOP Senate hopeful, said he also supports the six-month ban.
“I think that the 24-week ban in New Hampshire struck a good balance in protecting the unborn without a radical expansion of state authority,” Fenton said.
Retired Gen. Don Bolduc, another GOP Senate candidate, said he supports New Hampshire’s law. Bolduc wants to see Roe overturned and have states set abortion policies.
“We must understand that this opinion does not outlaw abortion. It returns the decision to the individual states to make the decision they think is best for their citizens. Here in New Hampshire, our state has already passed its own laws well before this court decision. That is precisely how the Founding Fathers intended our constitutional republic to function.”
And former Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith, who a decade ago served as executive director of the pro-life group Cornerstone Action, said he supports “returning this matter to the state legislatures so the people in each of those states have a say in determining when it is appropriate to put reasonable restrictions in place such as New Hampshire has done on late-term abortions. Unfortunately, Sen. Maggie Hassan and the extremists in Washington support late-term abortions and taxpayer-funded abortions, and they oppose any and all reasonable restrictions on abortion. That is plainly wrong and vastly out of touch with most Granite Staters.”
Monday night’s leak could galvanize voters on either side of the question heading into the midterms. Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund Kayla Montgomery said the potential reversal of Roe represents a crisis moment.
“Elections matter. The future of reproductive rights in the Granite State depends on the election of lawmakers who will fight to ensure abortion is safe, legal, and accessible – no matter what,” Montgomery said.
However, Gallup polling over the past two decades has consistently found about 80 percent of Americans oppose Planned Parenthood’s position of abortion without restriction up to the date of birth.
And a NHJournal poll taken in December found just four percent of Granite Staters said they wanted abortion to be the top priority of President Joe Biden and the Congress.
However, a July 2o21 University of New Hampshire poll found 56 percent of Granite Staters opposed the new law while just 33 percent supported it. The legislature has since amended the law to address criticisms of specific issues such as the ultrasound mandate, changes the governor is expected to sign.
New Hampshire House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) said New Hampshire voters both left and right want to keep the 24-week restriction in place, no matter what the Supreme Court decides.
“In the past year, pro-choice and pro-life legislators came together to settle on a prohibition of the most extreme and unnecessary late-term abortions. Any forthcoming Supreme Court decision will not change New Hampshire’s position,” he said.