Sununu backs later-term abortion ban budget rider

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Jun. 3—Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday he supports a ban on later-term abortions attached to the Senate-proposed state budget, removing a potential roadblock to compromise over a two-year spending plan.

Sununu's critics say he has changed course on the issue, given comments he made during the 2020 campaign.

Aides to the governor maintain that though he is pro-choice, Sununu for many years has philosophically supported legal restrictions on abortions during the later stages of pregnancy.

"So, look, I'm a pro-choice governor, but like most citizens of the state of New Hampshire, I do not think that we should be doing a late-term ... at the very-last-minute-type abortions. That's all this really touches upon," Sununu said during an interview with Concord radio talk show host Chris Ryan. "And I think most people agree that that's not appropriate. So, no, I wouldn't necessarily veto a budget over that."

This debate is certain to have political overtones as Sununu weighs whether he will try to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan in 2022 or seek a fourth term as governor.

Senate budget writers attached the House-passed 24-week abortion ban (HB 625) as an amendment to the trailer bill (HB 2) to the state budget that contains all changes in state law needed to carry out the spending blueprint.

The ban would subject health care providers to a Class B felony with up to seven years in state prison if they performed an abortion at 24 weeks or beyond for any reason other than to protect the life of the mother.

The ban has no exceptions for rape or incest.

Democratic Party leaders quickly seized on comments Sununu made during his last reelection campaign to debunk the governor's claim that he supports abortion rights.

"There shouldn't be any doubt: Governor Chris Sununu is anti-choice and supports restricting abortion. By promising to sign Senate Republicans' anti-choice legislation, Chris Sununu made clear he supports an abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest," said Gates MacPherson, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, in a statement.

Benjamin Vihstadt, the governor's spokesman, said Sununu's views have been consistent.

"Like a plurality of NH citizens and as the governor has stated for years, he supports a ban on late-term abortion," Vihstadt said in an email. "When asked in the Facebook live conversation, Governor Sununu said he was not looking to make any changes to New Hampshire's laws, and to be clear — he did not propose this legislative amendment."

"But as he said this morning, he's not going to veto an entire state budget over a change that would bring NH in line with 43 other states, and any claim that this is a radical restriction is just partisan politics," Vihstadt said.

Supporters of the ban note that New Hampshire has among the most permissive abortion laws in the country, according to independent analysis.

Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said Sununu has made appeals to both camps in the abortion fight.

"Well, I'm glad the governor's making his position known, because he's waffled quite a bit on this important issue," Soucy said. "This isn't an issue that you can just, you know, at whim decide how you're going to be. Either you support the rights of individuals to make choices about their own health care or you don't. It's that fundamental."

Sununu's history reveals he has backed similar proposals in the past.

During his first campaign for governor in 2016, Sununu said he supported banning abortions after 20 weeks.

After he was elected, Sununu in 2017 signed into law a fetal homicide bill, which defined a fetus at 20 weeks of development and beyond as a person for the purpose of criminal prosecution of murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide and causing or aiding a suicide.

During his second campaign for governor in 2018, Sununu said his views on the matter should find favor among social conservatives.

"It is important for conservative voters to know that I, too, support many of the commonsense platforms initiatives that they want to see passed, including: a fetal homicide bill, the Women's Health Protection Act, a late-term abortion ban, a New Hampshire buffer zone repeal," Sununu wrote at the time.

klandrigan@unionleader.com