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Emotional testimony on bill to repeal state’s new abortion law

By Paula Tracy - InDepthNH | Feb 11, 2022

CONCORD – An effort to repeal the state’s new 24-week fetal protection law came to an emotional head at a legislative hearing Thursday with personal testimony given by women on both sides of the issue of abortion and from the medical community that it will likely lead to a loss of those providing care in the Granite State if allowed to stand.

Public information on the sign-in for HB 1673 found 1,510 people in support of the bill and 364 opposed.

The hearing was held Thursday in Representatives Hall after two others related to abortion. CACR 18 would enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution. That had 1,416 sign up in support of the bill and 134 opposed. HB 1674 would establish abortion protection rights before 24 weeks in state law. There were 1,493 who signed up to support that measure and 136 opposing it.

The bills come as the United States Supreme Court is expected to weigh in this spring on several suits related to reproductive freedom.

Dr. Maris Toland an obstetrician in Lebanon said New Hampshire’s current abortion ban sends a message of mistrust and derision to doctors, who are in short supply in this state and are burned out, she said.

“You invalidate our training and our expertise,” she said, with this law, she said which would make punishable by seven years in prison performing an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

She said she has options on where to practice medicine, and so do others and that is what might be of concern to the future of women’s health in the state. For women who need care, they need to be able to make decisions with their physicians and the new law takes options away, Toland said.

The new law also requires women to get an ultrasound prior to an abortion and does not make any exceptions in the late-term abortions for rape, incest, and in the case of fatal anomalies where the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb.

Last week, the Senate passed a bill to remove the ultrasound provision from the law but Republicans rejected efforts to add exceptions, remove the criminal penalties for providers, or repeal the law altogether.

Governor Sununu has said he would support revisions to the new law including those related to the ultrasound requirements and criminalizing medical procedures. But he has maintained that limiting abortions to the first 24 weeks is not radical and supported by many and that other states have “similar” laws.

Opponents have said New Hampshire’s law is far more restrictive than in most other states.

Shannon McGinley of Bedford, speaking on her own behalf and not as the executive director of Cornerstone Action, said while pregnant at 18 weeks she found by ultrasound that her son had a congenital fetal anomaly, while not fatal.

She and her husband were urged to consider abortion and upon a second opinion, she took the pregnancy to term and found there was nothing wrong with the baby.

Several other individuals had similar stories.

Sandra Rogazio opposed the bill and read Deborah Bishop’s testimony.

Bishop wrote that when she was 22, she agreed to abortion then canceled the appointment and decided on adoption. She gave the baby girl to a couple who could not conceive.

Bishop wrote she had another pregnancy which was considered unviable and rejected the recommendation to terminate, and the boy was born perfectly healthy. While in college and bicycling home to surprise her on mother’s day, he died in a tragic bicycle accident. She noted she was comforted at that loss by her daughter whom she had given away.

“She has helped me to mend my broken heart,” Bishop’s testimony read.

While there was a lot of emotional testimony, former State Senator Matthew Hood, now vice president of government relations for Dartmouth Hitchock medical center said the law has practical implications to health care, in addition to forcing women to seek care out of state or attempt to convince a medical provider to break the law

He said Dr. Ilana Cass would be much more eloquent on the topic because she works to try to recruit ob/GYN providers to New Hampshire.

He read from her letter to the committee that the fetal health protection act imperils the lives of women “whom we are fully capable of providing for” and the law would have a systemic effect of steadily eroding access “by deterring physicians from practicing in the state.”

Attorney Ian Huyett, general counsel and director of policy for Cornerstone Action of New Hampshire spoke in opposition to the repeal bill.

Upon questioning, he said Cornerstone did participate in the drafting of the current law last spring.

Asked if there was a public hearing on that, which became part of the budget bill, Huyett said there was testimony on another bill and all the material aspects of the law went through a full democratic hearing process.

Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood Action Fund said she supported the full repeal of the recently enacted and “cruel, arbitrary” law and said she believes that patients, not politicians should decide on issues of abortion with their physicians.

“There is no playbook when it comes to pregnancy and pregnancy loss,” Montgomery said. “We have some of the best doctors in the world, yet the state is now sending people out of state if they can afford it,” to have an abortion after 24 weeks.

Jason Hennessey, speaking as president of New Hampshire Right to Life, opposed the bill.

He asked two central questions related to the bill: “who is a person and what rights to people deserve?”

Hennessey said the bill erasing the new law would “move New Hampshire backward allowing babies to be killed for any reason up to the last moment of the pregnancy.”

He said there is broad consensus around the country about opposition to late-term abortions.

He asked who was the most vulnerable?

“The child deserves society’s protections,” he said. “This is not just about the rights of the mother. There is another person there.

Though not a physician, he said it would make better health sense for the mother “to deliver her dead baby” than undergo an abortion.

Devan Quinn, director of policy for the NH Women’s Foundation, said the new law creates “inequitable barriers” and is particularly unfair for low-income women, survivors of domestic violence, and those without access to transportation. She said the ultrasound mandate which the law requires prior to abortion contributes to an effort to shame women, she said.

Sarah Marcoux and her daughter Samantha Marcoux, 17, of Northfield both came to oppose the bill, one being almost aborted by the other after an inaccurate diagnosis.

Samantha said “knowing I could have been aborted by a wrong diagnosis made it amazing,” she said that she was able to stand and oppose the bill.

The Committee will hold an executive session on all these bills, as well as three efforts to further restrict abortion access, on February 18.


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