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House Republicans tweak ultrasound mandate but reject adding exceptions to new abortion limits

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Republican leaders in the New Hampshire House have rejected Gov. Chris Sununu’s calls to add exceptions to the 24-week abortion ban enacted last year. But a GOP-led committee did take fast action to tweak a contentious part of that law, dealing with ultrasound mandates.

Under the proposed change, ultrasounds would be required for abortions “only if the provider either knows…..or is conscious of a substantial risk that the fetus has a gestational age of at least 24 weeks.”

That’s a change to last year’s legislation, signed into law by Sununu, that now requires ultrasounds for all abortions in the state.

“Let’s fix the misunderstanding so that it’s clarified,” Republican Rep. Beth Folsom of Wentworth, author of new language, said moments before the party-line vote to leave current law largely intact, including the criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions after 24 weeks.

The 11-10 vote followed several hours of testimony on a Republican-sponsored bill that aimed to eliminate any ultrasound requirement and permit abortions after 24 weeks in cases of rape or incest, or when the health of the mother would be at risk.

“This act does not promote abortion, but protects the life of the mother, who has been placed in these rare unfortunate circumstances through no fault of her own,” Rep. Dan Wolf, a Republican from Newbury who sponsored the bill Sununu backed, told colleagues.

While Sununu signed the new abortion restrictions as part of last year’s state budget, he says he’s now open to adjusting them. But House Republican leaders were staunch in their opposition to any substantial rewrite of current abortion law.

“Last year, the House of Representatives passed exceptional fetal protection legislation,” Rep. Len Turcotte of Barrington told the committee on behalf of House Republican leadership.

Republicans in the House blocked a separate bill to eliminate the ultrasound mandate by tabling it when the full Legislature met two weeks ago.

House committees rarely vote on bills on the same day they are first taken up. But Tuesday’s move, which appears to establish a House GOP position against revisiting abortion policy, comes as the state Senate prepares to hear two bills Wednesday, sponsored by Democrats, that aim to undercut the 24-week ban.

One would repeal the restriction, including the ultrasound mandate, in its entirety; another would establish a right to abortion in state law.

Sununu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the House’s action today.

Abortion rights activists were conspicuously absent from Tuesday’s debate. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, for instance, signed up in support of the original bill to add exemptions to current law but did not testify.

“Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund supports a full repeal of Governor Sununu’s abortion ban and ultrasound mandate,” said Kayla Montgomery, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

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