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Fact check: Misunderstandings and misinformation in state’s abortion debate

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Allegra Boverman for NHPR
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Misinformation and misunderstanding have loomed large in every legislative debate over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. It’s been the same with bills that would repeal or scale back the state’s new 24-week abortion ban.

Those inaccuracies were repeated on the House floor and by Republican leadership Thursday as lawmakers took up and passed House Bill 1609, which would add exceptions to the state’s law for rape, incest, a mother’s health, and fatal fetal anomalies. The law currently makes an exception only for the mother’s life and serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function to the mother.

It also has an unclear ultrasound requirement and criminal and civil penalties for providers.

With more abortion bills coming, as well as a second House vote on HB 1609, we fact-checked opponents’ arguments.

On Thursday, House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, an Auburn Republican, urged his party to defeat HB 1609, saying New Hampshire’s law is similar to those in “liberal bastion states” like Massachusetts and California. The governor, who supports the added exceptions, has likened our bill to New York’s.

Those comparisons are largely inaccurate.

Massachusetts’ 24-week ban includes exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies and the physical and mental health (not just the life) of the mother. The state has dropped criminal penalties. And, recent legislation affirms the right to terminate a pregnancy and prohibits the government from adopting further abortion restrictions. (Senate Bill 436 sought similar prohibitions in New Hampshire. It failed in the Senate. A constitutional amendment that would do the same was voted inexpedient to legislate by the House Judiciary Committee Friday.)

New York’s law is identical to the Massachusetts law except that its ban begins after a fetus reaches “viability,” which is generally between 24 and 28 weeks.

California’s Reproductive Privacy Act permits termination after “viability” only to protect the life and health of the mother. However, in California the choice to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right. While the law does not explicitly provide an exemption for fatal fetal anomaly, Matthew Houde, vice president of government relations at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, told a Senate committee that a pregnancy could be terminated after 24 weeks if it is not viable. The law does contain criminal and civil penalties.

Rep. Mark Pearson, a Hampstead Republican, argued against the passage of HB 1609 Thursday, saying an exception for a fatal fetal diagnosis is unnecessary because those anomalies are detected well before 24 weeks.

This is untrue.

While birth defects and other potential health concerns can be detected in the first trimester, fetal anomalies, which includes babies with no kidneys and partially formed brains, are most often not detected until much later, between 18 and 20 weeks.

A referral to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for further testing requires additional time, and families facing this situation have said the decision to terminate is so agonizing they need time to absorb and process the medical diagnosis and consult with family.

Detection of fatal fetal anomalies can also be delayed if a woman does not have access to early medical services.

Doctors in New Hampshire perform “elective” abortions after 24 weeks, even when a baby is healthy and a family wants to terminate because they no longer want a child.

This is not true.

Many OBGYNs have testified this session that abortions after 24 weeks are exceedingly rare in New Hampshire and not done except in cases with fatal fetal anomalies or when a pregnancy is the result of rape and incest.

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: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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