Gov. Sununu backs exemptions to abortion ban

Jan. 19—CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday urged a House committee to exempt cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality from the ban on abortions he signed that took effect Jan. 1.

The legislation gaining Sununu's support (HB 1609) also would eliminate an ultrasound mandate for all women seeking an abortion.

But House Republican leaders urged their colleagues not to make any significant changes to the Fetal Life Protection Act that outlaws abortions after 24 weeks.

After a two-hour hearing, the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee voted along party lines, 11-10, to replace the entire bill with a single change to require ultrasounds be done only for abortions sought during the third trimester of a pregnancy.

The quick action was clearly aimed at staking out the House GOP's position in advance of hearings Wednesday in the state Senate on bills to repeal the abortion ban (SB 399) and to create a right to abortion on demand for any reason (SB 436)

In a letter to the committee, Sununu explained why he decided to not veto the trailer bill to the state budget, which included this abortion ban, even though he disagreed with some of its provisions.

"Doing so would have caused Washington-style gridlock right here in New Hampshire, and I was not going to allow that to happen," Sununu said.

The governor said New Hampshire, in adopting a ban on abortions after six months, was in line with 43 other states, but the proposed changes are necessary.

"These measures are not extreme by any stretch of the imagination. These are all or in part consistent with many other states around the nation," Sununu said.

"We must ensure that access to services remain safe and accessible in the Granite State during what is a rare but extremely difficult and stressful time for a woman and her family."

Republicans break ranks

The bill had the sponsorship of six House Republicans, led by Rep. Daniel Wolf of Newbury.

"This bill does not promote abortion, but protects the life of the mother who has been put in these unfortunate circumstances under no fault of her own," Wolf said.

But one anti-abortion activist after another warned that these alterations would gut the law and make it unenforceable.

Ian Hewitt, general counsel with Cornerstone Action, a socially conservative group, said the elimination of the ultrasound provision would make it impossible for the state to determine whether abortions were done after 24 weeks.

"The bill causes the law to have no effect," Hewitt said.

The abortion ban always was intended for cases of a question whether the fetus was older than 24 weeks, he said.

As for exempting rape and incest, opponents said six months gives victims enough time to terminate a pregnancy before the ban kicks in.

"It may sound crude, but it is so obvious. The woman knows at minute zero if she is a victim of rape or incest. There are 24 weeks for the woman with her doctor to make a decision," said Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn.

Rep. Kurt Wuelper, R-Strafford and vice president of New Hampshire Right to Life, said many rape victims find comfort by carrying the baby to term.

"The mothers testify that the baby helps them heal, gives them a reason to continue living and look to the future," Wuelper said.

Many women spoke about their experiences of deciding to deliver their child even after doctors advised the fetus should be aborted for fear of abnormalities.

Deborah Bishop of Weare didn't take that advice in 1985 and delivered a healthy son, Adam, who lived "a happy life" until he was killed in an automobile accident in 2006.

"As mothers, we hold the future in our hands," Bishop said.