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Senate and House Divisions Crystalize over Abortion Bills

New Hampshire Senate
Allegra Boverman

All eyes were on the State Senate today, where lawmakers voted down a bevy of bills that would regulate abortion and allow employers to opt out of covering contraception.

State lawmakers have traditionally rejected such measures, but the issue has become a point of friction between the house and Senate. That friction is set to continue.

The four abortion bills before the senate were a partial-birth abortion ban, a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, a requirement of a 24 hour waiting period before receiving an abortion, and a proposal to prohibit the use of public funds for abortions.

The only measure that passed was the, mostly symbolic, partial-birth abortion bill.

That procedure is already illegal under federal laws.

The most passionate debate was on the 24-hour waiting period proposal, a bill that backers like Senator Fenton Groen of Rochester, call "a women’s right to know act.”

Groen: She should know that at ten-weeks or twelve weeks, there’s a heartbeat, that there are fingers and toes, that the baby has ears and eyes and a nose.

But the bill went down 12 to 11, and one pro-life Senator was absent.

After the session, the senators who voted against killing the abortion bills, like Republican Jim Luther, acknowledged that passing the bills would likely have been futile.

Luther: We pretty much had a sense that’s how it was gonna go. So I wish it had gone our way, but we knew the governor was going to veto it anyway so I’m a realist.

Democrats and pro-choice Republicans would much prefer to see the abortion debate fade into the rear-view mirror of this legislature.

Democrat Molly Kelly of Keene says most voters consider abortion it a settled issue.

Kelly: This is something that was resolved a long time ago, and I think it is in the past and we need to move on and we confirmed that strongly today that we need to move on and do the work of the people

But top Republicans in the House, particularly Speaker William O’Brien are not ready to move on.

O’Brien: We want to make sure that issues and legislation that is of equal and greater importance also gets to be part of the law in the state of New Hampshire.

By day’s end, house lawmakers had tacked the 24-hour waiting period language onto a Research and Development Tax credit bill.

That means that the Senate may have to choose between passing a contentious abortion bill, and killing a tax credit that Senate leaders in both parties had made a priority.

Senate president Peter Bragdon says the Senate has already made its decision on abortion.

Bragdon: I think the Senate has made its position clear on these bills, I didn’t necessarily agree with all the votes, but the senate’s position is clear, and I really don’t think sending it back in some other form is going to change that when all is said and done.

Later, in a written statement Bragdon and majority leader Jeb Bradley say they are appalled that the Houses actions.

The state’s Business and Industry Association is urging House to strip the abortion language from the bill.  

Speaker O’Brien, for his part says relations between the he and his Senate counterpart are fine.

O’Brien: We get along just great, I don’t know if you’ve been out and about and seen Peter and I and the friendship that’s developed there.

Actions like these may put that friendship to the test.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.

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