CONCORD, N.H. – As states across the country continue to create new laws regarding abortion access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year, New Hampshire’s legislature now has a new piece of legislation that seeks to enshrine access to abortion under state law.
Members of the New Hampshire State Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on SB 181 on Tuesday, a bill that aims to ensure that the state shall not restrict or interfere with an individual’s right to have abortion, excluding existing prohibitions under state law.
Testimony began with State Senator Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka (D-Portsmouth), the bill’s prime sponsor. Kwoka stated that this bill does nothing more than provide certainty for women who seek certainty regarding New Hampshire’s laws regarding access to abortion, referencing polling data that 71 percent of Granite Staters support abortion rights for women.
“We are women, mothers, and when we are pregnant, our ability to make decisions doesn’t change.”
State Senator Bill Gannon (R-Sandown) asked questions in regard to the viability timeframes for fetuses and whether the current law, which prohibits abortion 24 weeks after conception in most situations should be changed to 22 weeks. Kwoka said viability was not pertinent to this bill, which does not impact the 24 week threshold but instead affirms the right of women to have an abortion in the time frame prior to 24 weeks.
The need for that affirmation was later challenged b State Senator Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), who felt that the lack of any prohibitions prior to 24 weeks already achieved the aims of this bill. Kwoka reiterated that the lack of any specific laws affirming the right to freedom from government intrusion prior to that 24-week threshold left the matter in limbo and could potentially serve as a chilling effect for women seeking an abortion.
She added that vagueness was not present in the other five New England states, all of which have some form of affirmation for abortion access in their laws.
State Senator Becky Whitley (D-Contoocook), one of the two Democratic members of the committee, agreed, believing that the wording in this bill would give back rights that women lost following the Dobbs decision.
State Representative Alexis Simpson (D-Exeter), another one of the co-sponsors of the bill, echoed that sentiment as she has heard from constituents that women are afraid that they may face further erosion of reproductive rights following the Dobbs decision.
“Losing the ability to keep control of your future is scary, as a mother I understand those fears,” she said.
State Senator Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) added that this bill also extended Part I, Article 2b of the New Hampshire Constitution, which enshrines an individual’s right to live free from government intrusion in private or personal information.
Republican members of the committee expressed confusion with enforcement of the bill should it become law, focusing on wording that the state shall not interfere and asking if that meant private entities could interfere with reproductive rights prior to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
State Senator Daryl Abbas (R-Salem) asked Altschiller for an example of how this bill would be enforced if it became law, but Altschiller felt that question was outside of the scope of the bill and was not prepared to answer the question.
Elizabeth Canada, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, did provide one potential hypothetical situation, stating that the bill would prohibit state troopers from cooperating with other states who may prohibit women from crossing state lines to seek abortion treatment under their own laws.