Some N.H. Republicans who backed abortion exemptions won't be back at the State House
This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other outlets to republish its reporting.
It was six Republicans, not Democrats, who sponsored the bill adding an exception this year to the state’s 24-week abortion ban for a fatal fetal anomaly. And anti-abortion groups made sure their constituents knew.
Days ahead of Tuesday’s primary, campaign fliers hit mailboxes in Pittsfield and Chichester, telling residents their Republican state representative, James Allard, was a “cultural liberal.” Similar mailers arrived in Newbury and New London, saying their long-time House representative, Dan Wolf of Newbury, had “abandoned women and preborn babies.” Rep. Brodie Deshaies, a Wolfeboro Republican, was also targeted.
Of the four sponsors who sought reelection, only Wolf beat his challenger handily. Deshaies and Allard, who said he was “lambasted” by negative mailers, lost their seats. Another cosponsor, Rep. Bonnie Ham of North Woodstock, faces a recount after results showed her beating her opponent by just two points.
Cornerstone Action, among the anti-abortion groups that targeted Republicans who supported exemptions, celebrated the defeats on Twitter Wednesday.
“Little-discussed aspect of last night: a purge in state House primaries of multiple GOP incumbents who have supported abortion up to birth. Some will be returning to Concord only because no pro-life candidate ran against them,” the tweet said.
In a second tweet, Cornerstone Action wrote, “GOP representatives who persist in promoting the slaughter of viable six through nine-month-old babies in NH should realize their days in office as Republicans are numbered.”
The sponsors of exemption for fatal fetal anomalies acknowledged their controversial votes on other bills related to education, right-to-work, or parental rights could be at play in their primary fates. Still, as Cornerstone Action’s tweet indicated, Wolf and Ham and Republicans who favored exemptions have not cleared the abortion hurdle yet.
The general election will be the first time most voters head to the polls since GOP lawmakers passed the state’s 24-week abortion and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
If there was any doubt abortion would be on the November ballot, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham guaranteed it with his announcement Tuesday that he will seek a 15-week nationwide abortion ban with exceptions for only rape, incest, and a mother’s life or health.
Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center and political science professor, said the outcome will come down to which side of the debate can turn out more voters.
“The (Roe v. Wade) decision is certainly something that is motivating,” he said. “The Democrats are absolutely pushing that because that is something where you got a large group of people that are angry about that. I’m not sure that’s going to be as high as they think it is because it’s really hard to stay angry.”
Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund sounded the alarm the morning after the primary. “Results from New Hampshire’s state primary set the stage for a fight for abortion rights, as voters in the November 8 general election will elect state and federal legislators with unprecedented power to control our bodies and our future,” its statement read.
Cornerstone Action tweeted out its support for Graham’s proposed abortion ban shortly after he announced it. “Graham likely calculated that this bill would serve to expose Democrats as pro-abortion extremists,” it said.
Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican, led the effort that got 71 House Republicans to join him in passing the fatal fetal anomaly exception but hasn’t faced the same kind of attacks from anti-abortion groups. Asked about getting like-minded voters to the polls in November, Edwards said the party needs to better explain its support for abortion restrictions.
“We are not very good at fundraising off abortion,” he said. “I think most responsible Republicans think what we ought to do is just stick with the law as it is because we still have a public education challenge to make sure the public understands the law. They need to understand that our critical concern is that at 24 weeks we are dealing with a yet-to-be-born baby that has human rights.”
Rep. Dan Wolf, a Newbury Republican, was targeted by anti-abortion groups for sponsoring legislation adding exceptions to the 24-week abortion ban. (Screenshot)
It will be months before we know what abortion-related bills will make it before lawmakers in January. But some are certain.
Rep. Alexis Simpson, an Exeter Democrat, has filed a “legislative bill request” seeking to reintroduce a bill tabled this year that would prevent the state from further restricting abortion by codifying the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks in state law. That could pick up some Republican support, said Anna Brown, executive director of Citizens Count, which tracks legislation and candidates’ positions on dozens of issues.
In responses to one of the organization’s recent surveys, nearly two dozen Republican candidates said they would support a state law guaranteeing the right to an abortion prior to 24 weeks gestation. If they win their general election, Democrats will need their votes to succeed.
Meanwhile, Rep. Kurt Wuelper, a Strafford Republican and chairman of the anti-abortion caucus, told the Concord Monitor earlier this month that he expects efforts to further restrict abortion will return after failing last session. Among those is bill that would have allowed any man, without proving paternity, to halt a woman’s abortion for weeks with a court petition. Another would have prohibited abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.
Still unclear is whether Democrats will renew their efforts to repeal the abortion ban or loosen it with additional exceptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s health. If this session is any indication, the first will get virtually no Republican support and the latter will face a challenge from even Republicans who voted for adding the fatal fetal anomaly exception.
As introduced, House Bill 1609 included exceptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s health.
In interviews before the primary, Wolf and Deshaies said they dropped their support for those additional exceptions after talking with fellow Republicans.
“There were reservations even that I had regarding the health exception, which I thought was too broad,” Deshaies. “I think where there was consensus within caucus was if someone is raped or is a victim of incest, that they have up to six months to make that decision on whether they would receive an abortion.”
Wolf, the bill’s prime sponsor, said, “I’m satisfied where it ended up. I’m very comfortable with it.”
Deshaies said campaigning ahead of the primary convinced him the law is in line with most voters’ position on abortion.
“I think voters are really paying attention,” he said. “I’ve knocked on a lot of Republican doors. (They say) there should be some basic protections of life but also restrictions on how much the government is allowed to regulate people with any issue, and that includes this very complex issue.”
A few days before the election, Allard of Pittsfield received an email from an angry constituent saying he was removing his campaign sign from his yard. Allard asked the man to be more specific but guessed he was angry about his vote on abortion or perhaps his votes on bills related to parental rights and private school vouchers, both of which he joined Democrats in rejecting.
Allard hasn’t second guessed his work on abortion.
“When those bills come to the floor, you have to deal with them as you think is best for the greatest number of constituents,” he said. “And you have to let the chips fall where they may. If you get the occasional call, ‘I’m throwing away your sign,’ I guess you can’t win them all.”
Allard said he would have been unlikely to support further exceptions. And he’s persuaded by House leadership’s assurances that it won’t push for further restrictions.
“I’m rather proud that 1609 is on the table now,” he said. “But I also agree with what I’m hearing from (Republican) leadership that, for the time being, New Hampshire does not need to be digging in even deeper. We haven’t even seen the effects of the decision made last year. I am hoping in the coming sessions that this subject will be left alone and allowed to percolate.”
It’s safe to say it won’t.
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