Abortion ban in NH budget 'despicable,' Shaheen says

·4 min read

Jun. 28—U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen lashed out at Gov. Chris Sununu and the Republican-led Legislature in the wake of lawmakers voting on the first ban on later-term abortions in New Hampshire history.

Prior to hosting a roundtable with family planning providers, the Democrat urged the Biden administration to find ways to get more federal grants to their programs because it will take at least another six months to undo a former Trump administration "gag rule" on the Title X program in 2019.

The Republican-led Legislature repeatedly rejected replacing $1.2 million in dollars lost by seven of the state's nine family planning providers that left Title X in response to the gag rule.

The so-called trailer bill to the state budget (HB 2) passed last week includes a ban on abortions after 24 weeks except when it's done to protect the health of the mother. The provision includes no exceptions for rapes, incest or fetal abnormalities.

It will require ultrasounds prior to all abortions to determine the gestational age of the fetus.

The budget also directs the state to audit all programs to ensure they "financially and physically separate" their programs for services such as cancer screenings and their abortion clinics.

"I think it's despicable. It is clearly people who don't understand the ramifications of what they have done," Shaheen said.

The state of New Hampshire had no legal restrictions on abortion when Shaheen was governor from 1997-2002.

Shaheen worked as a paid consultant to the National Abortion Rights Action League before first winning election as a state senator in 1992 and becoming the nation's first woman elected as governor and U.S. senator.

"From my history in this state, this is unprecedented in the Live Free or Die state, that we would see this extreme legislative attempt to get between the bodies of women and their doctors," Shaheen said. "If you don't like abortion, you should support family planning."

The family planning leaders predicted these actions will lead to higher costs and longer wait times for low-income patients, increased unplanned pregnancies, and potentially less early detection of other health problems.

"This is the most anti-reproductive health budget the state of New Hampshire has ever seen," said Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Shaheen blamed Sununu for allowing the provisions to get into a state budget package that might not otherwise survive as a stand-alone bill.

"It is disappointing that Governor Sununu has not been willing to stand up to the Legislature and take a position on this," Shaheen said.

Sununu said he didn't author the abortion provisions.

While a supporter of abortion rights, Sununu said he has consistently backed restrictions on the procedure for pregnancies past 24 weeks.

The governor noted 43 other states have later-term abortion bans.

Discrimination claim

Ken Gordon, CEO of Coos County Family Health Services, said he hoped federal officials will explore whether these new restrictions were an illegal form of discrimination.

"We view this potentially as a form of discrimination. We are singling out a class of people, these are mostly low-income women," Gordon said.

Anti-abortion leaders heaped praise on GOP lawmakers and Sununu for giving them a victory after a quarter-century of activism for the cause.

Shannon McGinley of Bedford, executive director of Cornerstone Action, a socially conservative interest group, was one of four called upon to lobby House Republicans to endorse the trailer bill during a closed-door caucus.

"This was a hard-fought battle of many decades against enormous opposition, including the very well-funded Planned Parenthood political lobby. We are so proud of the lawmakers that took a stand for life and did not back down," McGinley sad in a statement.

"Today we can all celebrate the human lives that will be spared the barbarism of death inflicted just weeks before their birth."

State Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, said the GOP budget includes a 10% increase in state grants for family planning.

Diana Vidunas, executive director with Equality Health Center of Concord, said clients will pay more out of pocket including for the pre-abortion ultrasounds; poor customers are now charged $120 to have them and they are only done if they are medically necessary, she said.

"No one asked any of the providers here whether or not (mandatory ultrasounds) are good client care or not; and it's not good client care," Vidunas said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com