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N.H. House lawmakers pass bill adding exceptions to 24-week abortion ban

New Hampshire State House
Dan Tuohy
New Hampshire State House

In a 179-174 vote that overturned a committee recommendation, the House passed legislation Thursday that adds exceptions for rape, incest, and fatal fetal anomalies to the state’s new 24-week abortion ban.

The bill did not seek to eliminate the felony charges and hefty fines for doctors who violate the law.

Thursday’s vote, however, is not the final word. House Speaker Sherman Packard referred the bill to the Finance Committee because it includes estimated costs for prosecution and data collection. It will then return for a second floor vote.

House Bill 1609 is the one abortion-related bill this session sponsored by all Republicans and backed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The version that reached the floor Thursday had been stripped of the exceptions by the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. It retained only language clarifying the ban’s ultrasound requirement.

The House rejected the committee’s amendment and then tabled the bill in a 176-176 tie vote broken by Packard, a Londonderry Republican. That was followed by a successful request to remove it from the table and vote on the original bill.

Rep. Jerry Knirk, a Freedom Democrat, asked lawmakers to consider the family who learns late in pregnancy that their baby will not survive outside the womb. The current law would prohibit an abortion for that reason, and a doctor who proceeded with an abortion could be imprisoned for up to seven years and fined as much as $100,000.

“This difficult decision should be made by the parents and their provider, not legislators by prohibiting the choice of termination,” he said. “The Life Protection Act forces the mother to carry the pregnancy to term and go through labor and delivery only to deliver a stillborn baby or watch their baby die.”

Rep. Mark Pearson, a Hampstead Republican who chairs the House committee that amended the bill, argued that women learn of fatal fetal anomalies well before 24 weeks. That’s untrue in many cases because the tests that reveal those conditions are not done until 18 to 22 weeks.

He also pointed to abortion laws in other states that outlaw terminations after 24 weeks or earlier, saying they also do not make exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies and carry felony penalties. He pointed to New York and Massachusetts as examples. Both have dropped their criminal penalties and both make exceptions for babies that cannot survive outside the womb.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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