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April 21. 2014 10:29PM

Havenstein’s abortion stance scrutinized

A pro-life activist said Monday that Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein is “toast” for his pro-choice views, while another Republican said the stand — although in conflict with the state party platform — could help him win the governor’s office.

Over the weekend, Havenstein described himself as a “pro-choice Republican,” although he added he would support reasonable restrictions on abortion.

“I read that article, and I said he’s toast,” said state Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester, a former long-time board member of New Hampshire Right to Life. “Pro-lifers will never support him. It would undercut everything we stand for.”

But a prominent New Hampshire Republican said the party lost the White House and U.S. Senate two years ago because of abortion.

“The far-right Republicans don’t understand that winning is the most important part of an election,” said Doug Scamman, a former New Hampshire House speaker who called himself a pro-choice Republican. “If Republicans are going to win in the future, they’ve got to put that behind them.”

Havenstein, a retired defense-company executive who is expected to appeal to traditional Republicans, tried to avoid the hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage last week. On Friday, he told radio-talk show host Jack Heath he didn’t want to share his views on the issues.

He finally spoke on WMUR-TV’s CloseUP, which aired Sunday. Havenstein said he would consider a repeal of the state’s gay marriage law and he was pro-choice, although he believes in restrictions.

“It’s his first campaign mistake,” said former Gov. Stephen Merrill, who was beside Havenstein last week at his campaign kickoff. Merrill said the candidate told him he is personally pro-life and as governor would support a ban on late-term abortions and a requirement for parental notification. He said abortion can be a nuanced issue.

“It sounds odd to me to put it this way: you could also say he is pro-life with reasonable restrictions,” Merrill said.

Havenstein campaign spokesman Henry Goodwin said the candidate has personal feelings about abortion but would govern as a pro-choice governor. Outside of reasonable restrictions, Havenstein would do nothing to affect a woman’s right to choose, Goodwin said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Havenstein’s primary opponent said there is a clear difference between Bristol-resident Andrew Hemingway and Havenstein.

“Hemingway is pro-life. It’s a clear divide,” said campaign spokesman Alicia Preston. She said Hemingway, a non-denominational, evangelical Christian, is not going to change his opinion on issues just to get elected governor.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Havenstein said he supports parental notification and opposes late-term abortion.

But his campaign did not say where Havenstein stands on four abortion-related issues that went before the Legislature this year: buffer zones around abortion clinics, a fetal homicide bill, reporting requirements for abortion providers, and state licensing of abortion clinics.

Goodwin said the candidate hasn’t reviewed details of the legislation and doesn’t feel it is appropriate to comment at this stage

According to a Granite State Poll in April 2012, 8 percent of respondents — but 17 percent of Republicans — want abortion to be illegal in all circumstances. A plurality of 45 percent supported keeping abortion legal in all circumstances.

Another 43 percent of Granite Staters — and 55 percent of New Hampshire GOP — supported access to abortion in limited circumstances such as rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.

Yet, it’s not clear how significant abortion will be in the Republican primary.

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said neither Republican candidate will want to put abortion front and center.

Scala said Havenstein’s pro-choice label will probably be a small plus in a general election. During the 2012 election, Democrat Maggie Hassan spent a lot of time attacking Republican Ovide Lamontagne for his stand against abortion.

“There won’t be as stark a contrast this time,” Scala said. “That doesn’t mean that Democrats won’t try to brand him as a social conservative because of the stance of his party.”

mhayward@unionleader.com


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