CONCORD, N.H. — The penalties associated with New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion ban will remain in place after the state Senate on Thursday killed legislation that would have removed them.
The Republican-led Senate voted 14-10 along party lines to reject a bill that would have removed the civil and criminal penalties from the 2021 ban on abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy. It also rejected adding an explicit right to abortion up to 24 weeks to state law. Both bills had passed the House, where Republicans hold a narrow 201-196 majority.
Democrats unsuccessfully argued that the state should codify abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade and ending the nationwide right to abortion.
“Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, this Legislature has not taken one single, proactive affirmative step to protect access to abortion,” said Democratic state Senator Becky Whitley, of Hopkinton. “We have not taken one single step to reassure women that we do not intend to further restrict their fundamental rights. Words spoken on this floor are important, but they are not law. They are not enough. Granite Staters want action.”
Republicans insisted that the existing law is sufficient.
“I really think that our law is crystal clear,” said Republican state Senator Sharon Carson, of Londonderry. “A woman can safely get an abortion here in New Hampshire up to 24 weeks. This is not needed.”
The votes came a day after a federal appeals court in Texas issued a ruling that at least temporarily preserved access to the abortion pill mifepristone but reduced the period of pregnancy when it can be used and said it could not be dispensed by mail. The Justice Department said it would ask the Supreme Court for an emergency order to put any action on hold.
While that court fight plays out, lawmakers in states dominated by Democrats are seeking to protect access and Republicans are trying to tighten restrictions. New Hampshire lawmakers are considering more than half a dozen bills on both sides of the issue, but with the closely divided Legislature, none have been enacted.
On Thursday, state Senate Democrats argued that the penalties associated with New Hampshire's ban — up to seven years in prison and fines up to $100,000 — have made it more difficult to attract health care providers to the state at a time when hospitals are struggling with staffing shortages.
“Leaving these criminal penalties in place will send a message to the providers here, and especially those considering moving here, that we as a state believe that a decision that should be fundamentally between a woman and their doctor could potentially be a criminal one,” said Democratic state Sen. Donna Soucy, of Manchester.
But Republicans countered that having no penalty would make the law unenforceable, and that there was no evidence that the penalties have scared doctors away.
“I think what we should do is see what the data is in a couple of years, and then we can really make an informed decision,” said Republican state Senator Daryl Abbas, of Salem.
The House rejected multiple bills last month to further restrict abortion access while also killing a proposal that would have asked voters to weigh in on adding “reproductive autonomy” to the state constitution.
Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who considers himself an abortion rights supporter but also signed the current abortion ban into law as part of the state budget, supported both of the bills that failed in the state Senate Thursday.