The Republican-led New Hampshire Senate voted Thursday to limit the ultrasound requirement associated with the state’s new late-term abortion ban but refused to repeal it or make other changes sought by Democrats.
With the U.S. Supreme Court considering a case that could severely erode abortion rights, state legislatures across the country are taking up measures to further restrict the procedure or ensure access to it. New Hampshire lawmakers are considering at least eight bills on both sides of the issue, many of which target a state budget provision that took effect Jan. 1.
That provision prohibits abortion after 24 weeks of gestation, with exceptions only for pregnancies that threaten the mother’s life or health. Doctors who provide late-term abortions can face felony charges, and ultrasounds are required before any abortion.
The Senate voted 14-10 along party lines Thursday to replace a bill that would have repealed the ban with a measure that would require ultrasounds only when a fetus is likely to be at least 24 weeks gestation. It also rejected attempts to remove the criminal penalties or to add exceptions for cases involving rape, incest or fatal fetal anomalies.
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said she found the latter exception particularly offensive as the mother of an adult daughter who was born with significant disabilities. Tests that indicate that a fetus is unlikely to survive can be wrong, she said.
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"Never in my imagination would I ever believe that I had the right to kill her because she was disabled," she said. "This is something that is entirely foreign to me. ... Where does this idea come from — that you have the right to terminate a pregnancy because there’s something wrong with the fetus? We are not that as a society."
Democrats argued that without such exceptions, women will be forced to carry a pregnancy to term even if the fetus has died in utero.
"Failure to pass this amendment robs women in unimaginably tragic situations of the ability to make an informed health care choice in consultation with her provider," said Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton.
Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, broke ranks with Republicans to support that amendment, and both she and Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, sided with Democrats on a bill that would enshrine abortion rights into state law regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the coming months. But the 12-12 vote was followed with another to table the bill.
"For years I have heard, we don’t need this in New Hampshire, we are a unique state that values privacy and has bipartisan support for abortion rights. And for many years, that was indeed the case," said Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth. "But we can all recognize that times have changed. We need it now."
Kayla Montgomery of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England called the Senate’s refusal to add exceptions to the ban shameful and extreme.
"Today’s vote denies medical providers the ability to provide patient-centered care and jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of New Hampshire women and girls," she said.