Sununu says he is committed to upholding abortion rights in NH

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May 4—Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed legislation last year that banned late-term abortions, on Tuesday declared he is a "pro-choice governor" committed to upholding Roe v. Wade.

Sununu issued the statement after the website Politico reported that a draft of a ruling that would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion is circulating among U.S. Supreme Court justices. Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the document Tuesday but said it did not represent a final decision.

If the draft holds, abortion would become a political issue to be weighed and decided in state legislatures, wrote the author, Justice Samuel Alito.

A host of organizations and politicians issued statements on Tuesday.

State Democratic Party leaders held a news conference where they bemoaned the possible decision but saw a potential winning issue in November.

"This is not a fight that we imagined or look forward to, but at the end of the day people in New Hampshire support reproductive health overwhelmingly," said state party chairman Raymond Buckley.

Buckley was joined by former House Speaker Terie Norelli, Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy and Cinde Warmington, the only Democrat on the Executive Council.

"This is the day we have all been warning about," Warmington said. "Now, it is going to be up to the states to protect our fundamental freedoms."

Republicans held no similar news conference, and few issued statements besides Sununu. One who did was Senate President Chuck Morse, who is seeking the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate run.

He said he was proud of his pro-life record and pointed to the 2021 Fetal Life Protection Act, which bans late term and partial birth abortions. The draft decision would have no effect on that law, he said.

"We will wait to see what the Supreme Court ultimately decides, but I strongly believe that the states should have the right to govern policy in their respective states as this draft opinion would ensure," he said.

Other Republicans vying with Morse for the Republican nomination for Senate said they supported the contents of the leaked draft.

"Assuming the final SCOTUS opinion is in line with the leaked draft, I support returning this matter to the state legislatures," said former Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith.

Retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc condemned the leak, but said he did not look at the decision as outlawing abortion. "We must understand that this opinion does not outlaw abortion. It returns the decision to the individual states," Bolduc said in a tweet.

Both Smith and Bolduc said they did not personally support abortion.

NH bans some abortions

The New Hampshire law bans abortions after 24 weeks of gestation — essentially in the final trimester of pregnancy — except for a medical emergency.

Sununu signed it into law as part of a Republican-passed budget bill that included the legislation. The law makes no exception for rape, incest or fetal viability.

Sununu noted that bipartisan legislation is on the way to his desk that would add an exception. The legislation would allow for abortions after 24 weeks for fatal fetal defects.

"As a pro-choice governor, I am committed to upholding Roe v. Wade, which is why I am proud of the bipartisan bill headed to my desk this year that expands access," he said.

"So long as I am governor, these health care services for women will remain safe and legal," the statement read.

Democrats were quick to respond to Sununu's claiming a pro-choice mantle.

"Pro-choice governors don't sign abortion bans into law," said Tom Sherman of Rye, Sununu's likely Democratic challenger for governor this year.

Sherman said the abortion ban is being modified because several women testified about fatal fetal abnormalities.

While New Hampshire legislation to codify Roe v. Wade in state law is likely stuck in the Senate, Minority Leader Soucy said there may be other ways to bring the language forward.

New Hampshire is deeply divided on abortion, according to a 2021 UNH Survey Center poll that was taken before the late-term ban became law.

Forty-six percent of respondents opposed the ban, and 43% supported it. Democrats overwhelmingly opposed it, while four out of five Republicans supported it. Independents favored the ban, 46% to 41%.

NH delegation reacts

New Hampshire's all-Democrat congressional delegation reacted strongly to the news.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., tweeted that "a woman's right to choose is teetering on the edge."

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said the decision would have "catastrophic consequences" and called for codification of the Roe decision.

Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., said it would upend settled law, endanger health and safety and take the country backward.

Rep. Annie Kuster called it a "heinous attack on women."