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New Hampshire committee hears 3 anti-abortion bills

February 9, 2022 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A public hearing was held Wednesday on three anti-abortion bills in New Hampshire that would have long paths ahead before becoming laws, one of which proposes giving potential fathers the right to veto a woman’s abortion.

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. In New Hampshire, where a new law prohibiting abortion after 24 weeks gestation took effect last month, lawmakers are considering at least eight bills on both sides of the issue.

The House Judiciary Committee held public hearings on three of them Wednesday: One would prohibit abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, while another would allow prospective fathers to block abortions. The third would eliminate the safety zone that keeps protesters at least 25 feet (7.5 meters) away from abortion clinics.

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The committee has not yet made recommendations on the bills, and it’s unknown how much support they’d have in the full House.

Similar to Texas’ abortion law, the most restrictive in the nation, the first bill would essentially prohibit abortion after six weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. Unlike Texas, the New Hampshire bill would not allow private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who helps someone else get an abortion after six weeks.

“It’s not really a pro-life bill, it’s an anti-pro-death bill,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dave Testerman, R-Franklin. “I believe that we need to have a bill that clearly states we do not approve of murder in the womb.”

Medical experts say the early cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric movement within cells in an embryo. And opponents argue that many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks and thus would have little time to consider whether to have an abortion.

More than a dozen states have passed similar abortion bans, though courts have blocked such efforts. The proposal to give potential fathers veto power over abortions, however, stands as one of the most extreme attacks on abortion in the country, opponents said.

Under the bill, a man claiming to have caused a pregnancy would be able to petition a court to prevent an abortion. The petition would be automatically granted if the woman failed to appear in court.

“No uterus, no opinion is not the law,” said Rep. Jeffrey Greeson, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s about recognizing that men have some rights.”

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Greeson, R-Wentworth, said his goal was to allow men to take sole responsibility for raising babies that women don’t want, though the bill only requires them to pay the costs of prenatal care, and it doesn’t address situations in which the man and woman are married. Critics also noted that DNA testing to confirm paternity takes time, as do court hearings, further impeding a woman’s ability to get timely care.

Only two lawmakers, including Greeson, spoke in favor of the bill in the House Judiciary Committee hearing. Much opposition was expressed.

“The intent of this bill is clear. It’s a back door attempt to further restrict the fundamental right to abortion in New Hampshire,” said Frank Knaack of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.

While there would be an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape, the woman would have had to have made that claim before the petition was filed.

“Let me tell you, the first thing a person who has been raped thinks about is whether that person will come back again,” said Sara Smith, who said she was raped as a college student 40 years ago. “This bill just reminds me of the nightmare that I’ve lived for the last 40 some years and it cannot be voted into law.”

Rep. Susan Delemus, R-Rochester, said she also has endured decades of suffering after having an abortion 33 years ago. She broke down in tears testifying in favor of both bills.

“I was selfish,” she said. “I had no right to take that baby’s life, and I had no right to steal that baby from my husband.”