By Riley Kavanagh and Peyton Durkee
Content Warning: Topics of Abortion, Rape, Incest, Medical Procedures, Death of an Infant
The State House was impossible to miss. With its gold dome and columns, there was no mistaking it for anything other than a fundamental part of our government. At 9:00 am on February 15th, CACR2 would have a public hearing. It was a bill that would allow New Hampshire residents the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted abortion access as part of the constitution. Vermont had recently passed a similar bill which went on to be decided on by voters, enshrining the constitutional right to abortion. The room was set up like an auditorium, at the bottom of the incline there were long tables pushed together. That was for the Judiciary Committee. I sat with the rest of the Repro fund team, not knowing what to expect. We were sitting behind a group of elderly women wearing pro-life shirts and I wondered “Will they turn around and berate us for fighting for reproductive rights?” My thoughts were interrupted as Representative Amanda Toll, the primary sponsor of the bill, began to speak. She talked about what the contents of the bill were and how New Hampshire residents deserved the right to decide for themselves if reproductive rights belonged in the State Constitution.
After the contents of the bill were presented Granite Staters were given the option to testify. While not under oath, I expected people to maintain a level of honesty, but I was taken back by the exaggerated and purely fictional events that were used to dissuade the committee from voting Yes on CACR2. The first glimpse I got of the anti-abortion agenda was when a representative on the committee was disrespectful to pro-abortion activists testifying. He questioned the legality of the bill, saying “What about people who have an affinity for animals or like to keep it in the family?” Many thoughts ran through my head. The first being “What does bestiality have to do with abortion?” The second was “incest is actually not an exception under the current New Hampshire abortion ban, is he arguing that the ban needs to contain more exceptions? That is a pro-abortion stance.” This man was not pro-abortion though. His words were used with the intent of disinformation and fear mongering. He was the first to do so, but not the last.
When a woman who claimed she worked with survivors of interpersonal violence (IPV) stood up, I let out a sigh of relief. “Finally” I thought, “Finally someone will talk about survivors.” I had been volunteering in the field of IPV prevention for nearly four years and had just completed a research project on the intersection of IPV and abortion. When this woman stood up and said abortion shouldn’t be legal, I nearly cried. She used intellectual words and twisted them to support her narrative. She ignored important statistics, like how the leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide. She claimed that she helped survivors of IPV find a place to recover, but failed to mention how one of the most dangerous parts of a relationship is leaving an abuser. She also conveniently didn’t add how an abuser could have parental rights, which would force survivors to see their abuser. New Hampshire only allows termination of parental rights upon conviction. I could not, and still cannot understand how a person could watch what survivors go through, and want to limit their access to their bodily autonomy.
But disappointment was not the only emotion I felt throughout these hearings. I watched pro-abortion activists share their stories. People stood in a room full of strangers and shared intimate details of their life for the betterment of every person in New Hampshire. I watched men stand up and declare that this was not solely a women’s issue. I was proud and honored to be sitting among all these brave people. There was so much emotion in the crowd that day. I watched the after effects of a person sharing their abortion story getting cut off by the committee leader. The cries of despair as they were told “we don’t have time for you” in a space that is designated to hear the opinions of the people. I admire every person who stood up and bared their souls, not knowing if they would be asked an awful question in response to their emotional testimony, all for the sake that maybe we could obtain permanent reproductive rights in New Hampshire. I want to say thank you to every person who is fighting for reproductive justice in a post-Roe world.
The following day the state Judiciary committee heard public testimonies for three more House Bills, two of which directly attack abortion rights in New Hampshire. All three bills would deny New Hampshire residents a multitude of medical freedoms and restrict access to necessary health care.
Standing outside the state house in the bitter cold was a semicircle of New Hampshire residents strapped with scarves and gloves and signs exclaiming: “Live Free… Except if you have a Uterus!” and “We won’t go back. Bans off our bodies.” House Bill 591, which would nearly ban abortion outright by prohibiting the procedure after 6 weeks, couldn’t exist a year ago as it does today. Up until its overturning in June 2022, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States and made it a constitutional right across the country. Today, abortion is no longer a protected right in the U.S, and nearly half of the country has outlawed abortion. The overturning of Roe v. Wade left us fighting state by state for our right to a safe, often life-saving, procedure.
The first bill heard by the Judiciary committee that morning was House Bill 346, known as the “Born Alive Bill”, “Relative to the right of any infant born alive to appropriate medical care and treatment.” HB 346 is filled with vague medical descriptions and misinformation that insights fearmongering hypothetical situations regarding abortion and abortion care. What this bill would actually do is restrict the rights of parents to an infant born with fatal fetal anomalies and criminalize doctors for providing the compassionate care that grieving parents request.
Among the doctors, nurses, politicians, and pastors, three New Hampshire parents stood up to testify against HB 346. Each parent tenderly told the story of one of their children who passed away shortly after birth due to one or more fatal fetal anomalies. They told their state representatives how HB 346 would strip future parents, parents put in the position they were once in, of their ability to make medical choices for their child in the last moments of their life. These folks stood before the New Hampshire Judiciary committee, bravely presenting one of their life’s greatest pains to the public, to fight for the rights of future parents and children, to fight for a better post-Roe future.
House Bill 591 is not the only bill that attacked abortion rights. House Bill 562 sought to mandate a 24-hour waiting period on all abortion procedures, creating another barrier in the already strenuous process of accessing abortion care. Reproductive Freedom Fund’s executive director Josie Pinto testified against HB 591 and spoke on their experience working at a clinic that provides abortion care.
“There is no need for someone to take 24 hours to make their decision once they have come in for their initial appointment. Patients that show up to their appointments know what decision they are making, and if they decide against an abortion, we are there to provide them the support and resources they need. … This is all to say there is absolutely no need to mandate a 24 hour waiting period, because patients can determine for themselves when they should get care.”
Not only did HB 562 seek to make abortion access more difficult, it presented incorrect information about medication abortion as fact. HB 562 stated that the effects of mifepristone, the first pill taken in a medication abortion, can be reversed by taking progesterone. However a 2020 randomized control trial using progesterone to halt the effects of mifepristone found severe side effects for those who combined the two medications. It is frightening that a bill presenting dangerous medical misinformation as fact could potentially be a state law.
There’s one huge thing these three bills have in common: they don’t need to exist; not in New Hampshire, and not in any state. These bills are filled with purposefully vague language that makes room for endless hypothetical situations, distracting from what they really aim to do: deny people health care and rob them of their bodily autonomy.
On Thursday March 23rd, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted “Inexpedient to Legislate” on HB 346, HB 562, and HB 591, stopping all three of these bills from becoming laws. Abortion continues to be legal up until 24 weeks in New Hampshire. The 23rd saw a multitude of wins for reproductive justice, as both HB 88 The Access to Abortion Care Act and HB 224 that protects abortion providers from criminalization were voted “Ought to Pass” and will move on to the Senate. These results will continue to protect and progress reproductive and medical decisions in New Hampshire. But we still cannot say the state of New Hampshire protects abortion as a constitutional right. CACR 2 was voted “Ought to Pass” 193-191. However the constitutional amendment requires a 3/5’s majority support to move forward.
There is still work to do; there always is. After passing through the House HB 88 and HB 224 will go on to the Senate. The Senate will hear public testimonies as well. Their votes will determine whether HB 88 and 224 will end up on Governor Sununu’s desk, waiting to be signed into Law. But these House results will continue to keep Granite Staters seeking reproductive care safe. HB 346, 562, and 591 have been killed in the House of Representatives. These are the rays of light we’ve been working so hard for in a seemingly very dark post-Roe world.