By Ian Lenahan
Read the entire story at the Portsmouth Herald.
PORTSMOUTH — Thirty-one and a half weeks pregnant herself, State Sen. Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, spoke vehemently Thursday morning in opposition to New Hampshire’s recently enacted abortion ban, which lawmakers inserted into the state’s budget and Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law Friday, June 25.
Flanked by several Seacoast-area Democrats in front of the Portsmouth Public Library for a press conference held by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Perkins-Kwoka said the budget’s language “will have grave consequences for women and doctors, including myself, today in New Hampshire.”
Effective Jan. 1, 2022, in the Granite State, even in the case of rape, incest and fatal fetal anomaly, such late-term abortions are deemed illegal “except in cases of a medical emergency.” Such a ruling would be made only if the pregnant woman’s life or a major bodily function of hers would be threatened without an abortion taking place.
Language of the bill also states that, unless in the case of emergency, no abortion will be conducted until the gestational age of the fetus has been determined. To do so, health care providers are mandated to conduct an ultrasound examination of the patient to determine the fetus’ gestational timeline.
“A woman is the best person to make decisions about pregnancy, in consultation with her doctor,” Perkins-Kwoka said. “She has and feels that connection to the pregnancy.”
“Unfortunately, Gov. Sununu’s decision to sign this anti-choice budget will remove a woman’s ability to have autonomy over her body and her pregnancy.”
A health care provider who performs an abortion despite knowing that a fetus has reached 24 weeks gestation, or one who “consciously disregards a substantial risk that the fetus has a gestational age of at least 24 weeks,” will be found guilty of a Class B felony and could spend upwards of seven years behind bars, the bill states.
Subsequent ramifications for health care providers, along with other potential court penalties, include a fine anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000.
A gastroenterologist, Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, said Thursday that, in his tenure in the state legislature and long before that, there has been a “fundamental” understanding that elected officials shouldn’t wedge their way into the relationship between a patient and a health care provider.
The insertion of the abortion ban into New Hampshire’s budget, he argued, makes it more difficult to “recruit, train and retain” maternal fetal medicine specialists to work in esteemed programs such as the one at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
“We can’t continue that, if we tell those doctors that it’s a felony to do what is medically necessary for the life of the fetus or the life of the mother,” he said. “When they say it protects the life of the mother, it doesn’t. These are the weakest protections, almost in the country, for the health of the mother.”
New Hampshire’s ban on abortions also doesn’t have protections for the mental health and emotional welfare for struggling pregnant women, Sherman said. The mandatory ultrasound also is “not medically necessary” in the early part of a pregnancy.
“There’s nothing pro-choice about it, and actually, there is nothing pro-health about it,” he added, speaking about the budget’s language. “And there is nothing New Hampshire about it.”
Current Portsmouth Police Commissioner and reproductive rights activist Stefany Shaheen slammed the abortion ban and said that a woman being forced to undergo an ultrasound is “outrageous."
"It is unconscionable, it is hypocritical, and it is stunning,” she said.
Shaheen noted that the decision to insert the language into the budget, followed by vast support for it and ultimately Sununu’s signature, was a male-dominated process.
“Make no mistake about it, the abortion ban in this budget is a game being played to exert power over women. And what message does it say to women in our state?” Shaheen said. “You can’t be on the side of women if you don’t trust them to make their own health care decisions.”
Laurie McCray, chair emeritus of the Portsmouth Democratic Committee and Rockingham County Democrats member at large, said Thursday that the state’s Democratic party will spend the next year-and-a-half holding Sununu and state Republicans accountable for the ban.
“We’re all disgusted and horrified by this budget and Sununu’s extreme, right-wing abortion ban,” she said.
Ben Vihstadt, spokesperson for Sununu, could not be immediately reached for comment.