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Here's why Shaheen and NH Democrats are focused on the threats to Roe v. Wade this week

Before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, said college friends of hers seeking abortions had to attend illegal health providers for treatment.

Shaheen, 74, calling herself the only member of the state’s congressional delegation likely old enough to remember life before Roe v. Wade, said abortions were secretly conducted in back alleyways.

“We do not want to go back to that kind of situation,” she said Monday morning. “That is not good for women, it’s not good for families, and it’s not good for men, ultimately.”

New Hampshire’s all-Democratic congressional delegation virtually convened with state family planning providers to speak in advance of a U.S. Supreme Court case that will be heard this week that has advocates for legal abortion sounding the alarm. 

What is the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization

Beginning this week, a Mississippi-based case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is going before the Supreme Court asking for a review of the state’s 2018 law that bans abortions past 15 weeks gestation. After a lawsuit, brought by the Center for Reproductive Justice, led to a circuit court of appeals striking down the abortion ban as unconstitutional in December 2019, Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in May to hear the case. Oral arguments will commence Wednesday, Dec. 1.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the only state-licensed abortion clinic in Mississippi, while Thomas E. Dobbs is the state’s health officer. 

As noted by the Center for Reproductive Justice, the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Mississippi legislation has a wider, national context on the legality of abortions: “In this case, the Court has agreed to consider the question as to whether all previability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional.”

“I think, if you want to see a revolution, go ahead, outlaw Roe v. Wade and see what the response is out of the public, particularly young people,” Shaheen said. “Because I think that will not be acceptable to young women, or young men.”

Calling it one of the most extreme abortion bans in the nation, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, said Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a “direct attack on decades of precedent set by Roe v. Wade.”

“Today we stand on the precipice of Roe versus Wade being gutted, while simultaneously seeing politicians across the country, including in Concord, repeatedly try to roll back access to health care,” she said. “This rollback endangers the health of women by limiting their right to access to safe and legal abortion, and it also constrains their rights as citizens in a democracy and in an economy.”

While the consequential Supreme Court case stands in the foreground, the countdown to the Granite State’s own abortion restrictions taking effect in just over one month looms in the backdrop.

What are the New Hampshire abortion restrictions set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022

Signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in the summer, the state’s biennial budget will, effective Jan. 1, 2022, ban abortions in the state past 24 weeks gestation, except in the cases of a medical emergency. The new law applies in the case of rape, incest and fatal fetal anomaly, and medical emergency exceptions will only be made when a mother’s life or a major bodily function of hers is in jeopardy without an abortion.

Once the law takes effect, abortions will not legally take place in New Hampshire without a health care provider determining the gestational age of a fetus through a mandatory ultrasound.

The New Hampshire law will make it a criminal act for health care providers to knowingly perform the abortion of a fetus past 24 weeks gestation or disregard checking whether a fetus has reached that gestational age when performing an abortion. 

Health care providers in alleged to be in violation of the law will be charged with a Class B felony, punishable with up to a seven-year jail sentence, as well as a fine of anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000.

Rep. Annie Kuster, D-New Hampshire, was in high school at the time of the Roe v. Wade decision. Nearly two decades later in 1992, Kuster had just had her children when Roe v. Wade was reaffirmed by New Hampshire-hailing Justice David Souter and members of the Supreme Court. 

Generations of women in New Hampshire and across America have come to rely on Roe v. Wade and abortion access, she said, though New Hampshire women are at risk not just with the possible threat to Roe v. Wade, but also with New Hampshire’s new law.

"He (Sununu) signed an abortion ban, think about this, (with) no exceptions for rape or incest... If you don't like a mandate about masks or vaccines, how about a mandate for pregnancy,” she said. “Mandating, this governor would mandate that a woman carry a baby to term, and even if that fetus has died. It's just truly extraordinary and it's a major step backwards."

Rep. Chris Pappas, D-New Hampshire, said attention must be drawn to the impacts of abortion restrictions on patients and the importance of the Supreme Court case in order to “mitigate the impacts of what we’re seeing both at the federal level and at the state level.”

“We just can’t count on the Supreme Court to stand up for Roe and be the backstop as they have been traditionally, and so this is really a new era and it’s up to us to fight back,” he said. 

Legislation barring abortions in New Hampshire and around the country, he added, “place an onerous burden on women and healthcare providers,” he said.

New Hampshire Republicans seek more abortion restrictions

State Republican legislators are also in the midst of creating several bills that would further restrict abortions in New Hampshire. One would ban abortions after a fetus’ heartbeat is detected, while another would allow for an unborn child’s biological father to seek a court order prohibiting the mother of the baby to have an abortion. Democrats in Concord are working to draft legislation repealing new state abortion restrictions and are looking to make the right to make reproductive medical decisions a constitutional right. 

In response, Brandon Pratt, spokesperson for Sununu, said Democrats have tried to portray the governor as anti-choice, though “the fact remains that he is a pro-choice governor who supports a woman’s right to choose.”

Pratt wrote in an email: “To be clear, he did not propose this legislative amendment. But as the Governor has repeatedly said, he would not veto a $13 billion state budget over a change that would bring New Hampshire in line with 43 other states, and any claim that this is a radical restriction is just partisan politics.”

The Guttmacher Institute reports that, as of the start of this month, 43 states prohibit some forms of abortion past a certain point in pregnancy.

NH family planning providers describe patients' mixed emotions

Joining New Hampshire’s four-person congressional delegation Monday were leaders from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the Lovering Health Center in Greenland and Equality Health Center in Concord. 

It’s the second time in recent months that the three state family planning providers have discussed reproductive services with the all-Democrat congressional delegation.

In September, the congressional leaders and providers denounced the Republican majority party-line vote by the state’s Executive Council to strip funding from the three family planning providers by not extending their contracts. 

Funding from the state has allowed the Lovering Health Center, Equality Health Center and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which all provide abortion services, to offer an array of health services. When it came to a vote this fall, Republican councilors cited a concern that the funding might blend in with the providers’ mix of health services, which includes abortion.

Within that budget bill was also a new requirement for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to conduct an audit of reproductive health care facilities to make certain that no funding is being used for abortion services.

This fall, upon the enacting of Texas’ law that disallows abortion procedures past six weeks gestation of an embryo, which is before most people know they are pregnant, some Planned Parenthood of Northern New England locations have received patients from Texas to perform services, according to vice president of public affairs Kayla Montgomery.

“Of course, we were able to provide the care that they needed but it’s certain that we will see more of these patients from Texas and from other states in the coming months and coming years,” she said. “And it’s really important that we’re looking at abortion access in northern New England 10 years, 20 years out from now.”

Sandi Denouncour, executive director of the Lovering Health Center, said the organization has already begun mapping out what their services will look like without state or federal Title X funding.

Through the last few weeks, some Lovering patients have expressed “ a real dismay” over the state’s new abortion law and the stripping of funds from the three family planning providers. With that, they’re beginning to face the reality that their care and access to services could look drastically different in the coming months. 

On the flip side, Lovering patients are also expressing “relief and gratitude” that they’ve been able to seek care with the center before the ramifications of the abortion law and Executive Council’s vote to eliminate funding take effect.

“I think that, for women who face this decision directly, there’s a very deep and personal understanding of what the right to access and the right to choice could look like in a handful of months,” Denouncour said. “And that sense of relief that, while that’s very real to them, is such a sign in my mind of how ill-treated and disempowered women making this decision feel right now and have felt for decades and why cementing… and upholding Roe versus Wade is so critically important.”

Cornerstone Policy Research, a pro-life group in New Hampshire, could not be immediately reached for comment.