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New Hampshire House refuses to either further restrict or protect abortion rights

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Republican-led but closely divided New Hampshire House rejected three abortion bills Thursday, refusing to either further restrict or protect reproductive rights.

Current state law prohibits abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy except when the mother’s health or life is in danger or there is a fatal fetal anomaly. The House voted 193-184 Thursday in favor of asking voters to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution as well. But the vote fell short of the majority needed to advance the proposal.

The House also rejected a bill that would have required abortions after 15 weeks to be performed with two doctors present and in hospitals with neonatal intensive care units and a third measure that would have banned abortion after 15 days of gestation. The latter was akin to an outright ban as virtually no one knows they are pregnant at that point, and lawmakers took the extra step of voting to “indefinitely postpone” the bill, making it more difficult to revive at a later date.

The only one of three measures to be debated was the constitutional amendment to protect abortion up to 24 weeks and allow abortions beyond that when a physician believes they are necessary. It was sponsored by Rep. Amanda Toll, who spoke in support of the proposal while holding her week-old daughter.

“Having my third child, a little girl, has reinvigorated my commitment to making sure that every Granite Stater, including Daniella, has the right to make their own reproductive decisions,” she said. “We need to send this to the voters and let voters decide.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in 2022, voters in seven states have either protected abortion rights or defeated attempts to curtail them in statewide votes. New Hampshire does not allow citizen-led ballot initiatives, but changes can be made to the state constitution if three-fifths of the Legislature agrees to put the question to voters, who must then approve amendments by at least a two-thirds majority.

“Granite Staters should not have their reproductive rights on the line every legislative session with bills seeking to ban abortion earlier and earlier in pregnancy,” said Toll, a Democrat from Keene. “Because while abortion is currently safe and legal here, we have zero state or federal protections in place for abortion rights in New Hampshire.”

Opponents argued the wording of the amendment was vague and left too much to a doctor’s discretion. They also said it wasn’t needed because the current law is widely supported by the public.

“There simply is no threat to abortion rights in this state, despite the never-ending political rhetoric to the contrary,” said Rep. Bob Lynn, a Republican from Windham. “And therefore, this proposed constitutional amendment is totally unnecessary.”

Holly Ramer, The Associated Press