CONCORD — Young women with poignant pregnancy stories lined up on opposite sides of the abortion debate at the State House Wednesday.
The House Judiciary Committee moved into cavernous Representatives Hall to hear testimony on four abortion bills, which ranged from a ban on the procedure if there’s detection of a heartbeat (HB 1475) to outlawing abortions done due to the child’s sex or because the fetus has genetic defects (HB 1678).
The other two bills would eliminate the ability of a minor girl to get a judge’s permission for an abortion if they don’t want their parents to know (HB 1640) and another that requires any health care provider to try to save any infant “born alive” even if it’s during the course of an abortion (HB 1675).
Congress passed in 2002 a federal law making it a crime to kill a child that’s born alive even if that happens during an attempted abortion.
Jennifer Albee, 35, said it was “wildly intimidating” testifying against abortion amidst a room full of doctors in white coats and Planned Parenthood advocates who dressed in pink shirts. A few donned the red-robed costume of the award-winning TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale” that symbolizes fertility and childbirth.
“I did face my own unplanned pregnancy when I was 24. I was on that side,” Albee said pointing to the left half of the hall where abortion rights supporters sat.
“I supported a woman’s right to choose. I walked into Planned Parenthood and I walked out. My son is now 11. He is smart and beautiful and has two brothers. My sister had an abortion, there was nothing, no assistance given to her but there was assistance given to me. This is not about women’s rights; this is about human rights.”
A short time later, Annie Johnson of Sanbornton told her story that had a different outcome.
“15 years ago I had an abortion. I was raped and Planned Parenthood took care of me and saved me,” Johnson said.
“There is a lot of talk about what constitutes humanity and life here but my life mattered and the millions of women in this position should be spoken up for.”
NH’s abortion laws
New Hampshire has among the most permissive abortion laws in the country.
The state’s parental notification law only took effect in 2011 after the overwhelmingly Republican-led Legislature overrode then-Gov. John Lynch’s veto.
An earlier parental notification law went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.
A year later, Democrats took charge of the Legislature and struck the law off the books.
These anti-abortion bills are unlikely to succeed in 2020.
The Legislature is again under Democratic control and Gov. Chris Sununu, a two-term Newfields Republican, supports abortion rights.
President Trump has become a zealous opponent of abortions and his two appointments have cemented an anti-abortion majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, all three Republicans running this fall to try and unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, oppose legal abortions and one of them, former House Speaker Bill O’Brien of Nashua, has compared it to slavery.
Shaheen was a leading national abortion rights activist before seeking elective office.
State Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, said anti-abortion lawmakers are advancing a growing movement in this country.
“The reason there are fewer abortions is because America is becoming more pro-life,” Notter said.
The fetal heartbeat bill has two exceptions, one in which a heartbeat of the fetus could not be detected and abortions carried out to protect the mother from death or serious injury.
Dr. Ellen Joyce is chair of the state chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“This package of legislation compromises the ability of women in New Hampshire with complex or medically difficult pregnancies to get the best possible care, and some even criminalize doctors like me,” Joyce said.
No ‘heartbeat’ law is enforced
Lawmakers in 19 states have tried to put in place fetal heartbeat laws starting with Ohio in 2011.
None have been allowed to stand as federal judges have struck them down or set them aside.
Several judges ruled they amount to a de facto ban on abortion since this heartbeat or pulsing of nerves can be detected at six weeks, often before the mother knows she is pregnant.
“The reality is that abortion is health care, and it’s one of the safest medical procedures,” said Dalia Vidunas, executive director of Equality Health Center, the Concord-based abortion and other reproductive services provider.
“One in four women in this country will have an abortion in their lifetime and no one should have to justify why they want to access an abortion.”
Jeanne Hruska, political director with the Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire said no more than a “half-dozen” girls under 18 ask a judge for permission to get an abortion.
Darlene Pawlik of Raymond said as a teenager she was trafficked by a controlling male for sex and questioned if all judges in these cases would be ethical.
“I was trafficked as a teenager and my provider required many to have abortions, including kids like me,” Pawlik recalled.
Lucy Karl, a lawyer with the Shaheen & Gordon firm that specializes in these matters on behalf of minor girls, said they are all taken very seriously.
“There is also a very concerted effort by the judges in our state to spend a lot of time with the young woman, ask a lot of questions,” Karl said.
“What is so important is the safety of the young women; they have all come to me due to safety concerns in the home, please don’t take that away from them.”email@example.com