UPDATE, March 21, 5:26 p.m.: All four bills curtailing reproductive heath care were rejected by a bipartisan majority of New Hampshire’s house and will not proceed to the state senate, according to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
“I saw a video of a tiny, tiny, little baby, tiny little baby, running up the uterine wall, playing.”
That’s how one New Hampshire Republican legislator last month described a sonogram of a fetus the size of a kidney bean.
Rep. Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack) is one of the GOP sponsors of four bills that seek to block or deny access to birth control and abortion services, that reproductive health advocates have deemed “outrageous.”
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By medical standards, a fetus is the size of a bean at eight weeks, long before it has recognizable features like hands and feet. Notter’s description fits a pattern of anti-choice legislators describing fetuses as having the features and abilities of fully-formed people. In 2013, for example, a Texas congressman said abortion care should be outlawed since fetuses can be seen masturbating in the womb.
Notter made her comments about the “running” fetus last month, during a hearing for a bill to establish fetal viability at eight weeks. The bill has been defeated, but Notter’s comments were captured on video and released last week by Granite State Progress, a New Hampshire-based advocacy organization.
Representative Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham), an outspoken critic of these anti-choice bills, told Rewire.News that the attacks on reproductive rights have been “relentless and never ending.”
“It’s true, if you’re an American woman, you’ve never lived a day in this country without someone trying to legislate what’s going on with your reproductive system,” Altschiller said. “And usually it’s people who don’t have a uterus, and also don’t have a medical degree.”
That was the case in recent committee hearings where health professionals presented facts to counteract the anti-choice myths perpetrated by these bills and their sponsors, from denying the practice of informed consent to labeling women as “vulnerable persons” who are not able to take care of themselves, she said.
Bill HB 1787 would allow a physician, nurse, or pharmacy employee to refuse to provide contraception or abortion care, mirroring the stance of the Trump administration’s health-care discrimination wing in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“When you read the legislation, it essentially allows this 17-year-old clerk at CVS to claim a right of conscience in not selling one of their peers condoms. It is not just for the pharmacist. It’s for anyone who works at a pharmacy in any capacity,” Altschiller said.
The Republican bill will have a full house vote Thursday, along with HB 1707, which seeks to establish forced 24-hour waiting periods for those seeking abortion care; HB 1721, which would restrict access if a family member can label the pregnant person “vulnerable”; and HB 1680, which would prohibit abortion care after viability without any basis in medical standards.
“In a time when Vice President Mike Pence openly says access to safe, legal abortion will soon end and Governor [Christopher] Sununu is co-hosting fundraisers with him, any attack on women’s reproductive health is a slippery slope back to the days of back alley abortions and limited options for women,” Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice-Hawkins told Rewire.News in an email.
Sununu’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment. The Republican governor had been openly anti-choice despite New Hampshire being a pro-choice friendly state but has not recently discussed the issue, advocates said.
Passage of these bills would prove disastrous for reproductive health care in New Hampshire, said advocates.
“The anti-choice lobby in DC and New Hampshire have made it clear they are willing to take away not only abortion care, but also contraception coverage to prevent unintended pregnancies to begin with,” Rice-Hawkins told Rewire.News. “This is not about choice, this is about a worldview that puts women back in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. Governor Sununu and state lawmakers have a responsibility to publicly denounce this legislation and make it clear they will not support attacks on women’s reproductive rights.”
Jeanne Hruska, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, told Rewire.News it’s heartening that three of the four anti-choice bills come with negative recommendations in the state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. The house has already defeated two bills this session that would have threatened reproductive rights, including one that would have defined fetal viability at eight weeks.
“These bills do not reflect New Hampshire’s strong history of protecting privacy rights, including women’s reproductive rights,” she said. “We are encouraging legislators to continue to champion women’s rights and to uphold New Hampshire’s commitment to privacy.”