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Republicans in NH Senate reject plan to remove penalties from abortion ban

Supporters of abortion rights rally in Manchester in June of 2022.
Gaby Lozada
A rally in Manchester following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to roll back federal abortion protections in June 2022.

Republicans in the New Hampshire Senate on Thursday killed two bills aimed at bolstering abortion rights, both of which passed with bipartisan support in the House and had the backing of Gov. Chris Sununu.

One bill would have explicitly enshrined abortion rights in state law, as other states have done in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade last year. The other bill would repeal the penalties facing medical providers who violate New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion ban.

New Hampshire prohibits most abortions after 24 weeks, with some exceptions in the case of a “medical emergency” or fatal fetal anomalies. Providers who violate that ban could face civil or criminal penalties, including felony charges and fines of up to $100,000.

Sen. Daryl Abbas, a Republican from Salem, said removing those penalties would render the state's abortion law meaningless.

"Having no penalty kind of makes the law unenforceable,” he said during the Senate’s debate on the bill.

But Democrats, including Sen. Sue Prentiss of Lebanon, said those sanctions make it harder to recruit and retain health providers.

“Why come to New Hampshire and face criminalization for doing your job, for providing compassionate care?” she said.

The bill to codify abortion rights in state law wouldn't have changed any existing restrictions. But supporters, including Democratic Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka of Portsmouth, said it helped to clarify where New Hampshire laws stand as other states — and the courts — impose new restrictions.

“The ground is shifting under our feet,” she said. “Across the country, there are efforts to roll back reproductive rights, and some of those decisions do not stop at our state borders.”

Republican senators said the bill wasn't needed.

“We do not have a ban on abortion in our state, but what we do have is a ban on late term abortion, which the vast majority of the New Hampshire citizens support,” said Republican Sen. Sharon Carson of Londonderry. “And for those who say that we do have a ban on abortion, you are spreading misinformation and confusing, which is causing fear and panic in women.”

Sununu previously said he favored both bills, including rolling back the penalties in the 24-week abortion ban he signed in 2021. But he expressed a more lukewarm endorsement ahead of the Senate vote this week, saying the proposals seemed likely to fail.

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