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New Hampshire considers changing, repealing abortion ban

January 19, 2022 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Less than three weeks after New Hampshire’s new abortion ban took effect, lawmakers have moved toward changing it slightly while also being urged to eliminate it altogether.

The state budget signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu contained a provision prohibiting abortion after 24 weeks of gestation, with exceptions only for pregnancies that threaten the mother’s life or health. As of Jan. 1, doctors who provide late-term abortions can face felony charges, and ultrasounds are required before any abortion.

On Tuesday, a Republican-led House committee rejected a proposal to add exceptions for rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality — despite Sununu’s urging. Instead, it voted in favor of requiring ultrasounds only when a fetus likely to be at least 24 weeks gestation. And on Wednesday, a Senate committee heard testimony on a bill backed by Democrats to repeal both the ban and ultrasound mandate.

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“We are at a crossroads as a state. Do we respect a woman’s right to choose, or do we tell New Hampshire women that our state value of individual freedom does not apply to them?” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua.

Supporters of the bill said the current law criminalizes clinically appropriate medical care and will exacerbate a health care workforce shortage.

“A state with criminal penalties for doctors is not an attractive one,” said Sen. Sue Prentiss, D-West Lebanon.

Opponents said the new 24-week ban is modest, reasonable and should remain. Rep. Beth Folsom, R-Wentworth, argued against additional exceptions, saying rape victims carefully track their menstrual cycles after they’re assaulted and wouldn’t wait 24 weeks to seek an abortion. She also said an incest exception wasn’t needed because “if they are still under the control of that aggressor, that aggressor is going to make sure that young girl or woman has an abortion before anyone finds out.”

Asked about the bills later Wednesday, Sununu repeated his support for removing the criminal penalties for doctors, adding the exceptions and eliminating the ultrasound requirement. He called the House committee’s vote “a positive step forward but not nearly enough for my liking.”

With the U.S. Supreme Court considering a case that could severely erode abortion rights, state legislatures across the country are taking up measures to further restrict the procedure or ensure access to it. New Hampshire lawmakers begun work on at least eight bills on both sides of the issue.