With the future of Roe in jeopardy at the U.S. Supreme Court, legislatures across the country have been busy getting their states ready to prohibit abortion if Roe falls. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states will or are likely to ban abortion if the Court overturns Roe. Texas has gone a step further by creating incentives for anyone — including abusive partners, estranged relatives, and complete strangers — to act as bounty hunters and take doctors, health centers, and anyone who helps another person access abortion to court.
The Texas’ law has been in effect for six months, during which time people have traveled across state lines to access abortion care – even coming so far as New Hampshire. But a new brand of legislative attacks on abortion rights would take even this option away from pregnant people – like a new Missouri bill that would prohibit residents from obtaining abortion care out-of-state.
In New Hampshire, regardless of the political party controlling the seats of power in Concord, we had a long and proud tradition of preventing the government from controlling private health care decisions. That is, until last year.
Last legislative session, as part of the budget bill, New Hampshire added its name to the growing list of states that deny pregnant people the right to decide for themselves whether or not to end a pregnancy. As of Jan. 1, 2022, New Hampshire law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks (with minor exceptions for extreme threats to the health of the pregnant person) and creates a mandatory ultrasound requirement for all abortion care – regardless of gestational age or medical necessity. New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion ban does not even include exceptions for people who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest or who receive a fatal fetal diagnosis.
While New Hampshire has not gone as far as these other states, let’s remember that many of these 26 states didn’t start with trigger laws, which would immediately ban abortion in that state if the Court overturns Roe, or 6-week abortion bans, which functionally ban abortion before many people know they’re pregnant. These states started with 24-week bans, ultrasound mandates, restrictions on public funding, and parental notification.
If these restrictions sound familiar, it’s because that is where the Granite State currently sits. Make no mistake, there is a political project underway in New Hampshire to ban abortion and these restrictions were just phase one.
And phase two is already underway in New Hampshire. Just last month the House Judiciary Committee voted to oppose House Bill 1477, which would bring a 6-week abortion ban to the Granite State, by just one vote. Supporters of that bill will have another opportunity this session when the bill comes to the House floor for a full vote.
New Hampshire lawmakers have also filed a number of less direct attacks on abortion. HB 1181 would give anyone who claims paternity the power to seek a court injunction prohibiting a pregnant person from having an abortion. Under this bill, survivors of abusive relationships could have their abortion blocked by their abuser and pregnant people would risk criminal sanction for seeking a safe and legal medical procedure. And, it gets worse. For victims of incest, this bill would require the victim to cover the costs of DNA testing to prove their claim. This unconscionable bill is yet one more attempt to make abortion as difficult to access as possible.
Another bill, HB 1654, is a backdoor attempt to undermine abortion care in New Hampshire. It would require the Department of Health and Human services to publish an annual report consisting of an aggregate statistical summary of all abortions performed in New Hampshire. It looks benign, until you read the fine print. In addition to the fact that this legislation would single out abortion care as the only medical procedure designated for data collection by the Division of Vital Records Administration, this bill provides that while the state would publish aggregate data, health care providers would be required to submit detailed, individualized reports on each patient’s medical procedure, thus leaving Granite Staters’ personal medical decisions unnecessarily at risk of disclosure.
The House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee also recently supported a bill that would provide extreme religious exemptions under the guise of “conscience.” HB 1080 would allow any health care provider – broadly defined – to refuse to provide abortion, sterilization, or contraception services. Health care providers could refuse to schedule appointments and procedures or process insurance paperwork for anything connected with abortion, sterilization, or artificial contraception. Providers could not lose their license or be disciplined by professional licensing boards or their employer, no matter how bad their conduct, so long as they claimed to be motivated by their “conscience.” And it would shield providers from civil, criminal, or administrative liability from any harm to patients that results from any refusal of care – no matter how egregious the harm.
With Roe under threat, these bills are yet another reminder that the fundamental right to abortion is under real threat in New Hampshire. Now is the time for our state legislature to draw a line in the sand and make clear that pregnant people should be able to seek abortion care without shame, stigma, or unnecessary obstacles.
Devon Chaffee is the Executive Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire.