Column: N.H. high court nominee’s alarming record

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald in West Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 13, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

Published: 6/17/2019 10:30:19 PM
Modified: 6/17/2019 10:30:15 PM

New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to be the next chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, has a lot of answering to do. At his public hearing before the Executive Council on June 26, MacDonald’s record must be closely and carefully scrutinized, and he must be asked questions to illuminate his views on the right to privacy and our reproductive freedoms.

As long-time volunteers and former board presidents of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire, we are deeply concerned about MacDonald being named to the state’s highest judicial office and becoming the guardian of our constitutional rights. At a time when federal protections for abortion access are in serious danger of disappearing entirely, women must look to state laws and constitutions for protection. And here in New Hampshire, we need our Supreme Court leader to be an individual who respects a woman’s right to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, and who will uphold that right in appeals presented to the court. Instead, with MacDonald, we have someone whose public record on these questions is alarming rather than reassuring.

As any casual reader of the news is well aware, the presidency of Donald Trump and the installment of an anti-choice majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has emboldened extremist anti-choice politicians. Just this year, 14 states have passed laws making it harder to access abortion, including seven states with total bans or near-bans. The strategy behind these measures is to instigate a legal case that will result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as these laws fly in the face of the protections guaranteed by Roe. Since the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, the likelihood of overturning Roe is greater than it has ever been since 1973. If the 46-year-old Roe decision is overturned, protecting abortion access will be left entirely to the states. Whether laws are enacted in New Hampshire to restrict abortion or to protect it, they will in all likelihood eventually make their way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The future of reproductive freedoms in our state may well depend upon this nominee.

Unfortunately, MacDonald’s past is extremely troubling to us as reproductive rights advocates. He was legislative director and chief of staff for the virulently anti-choice U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, who introduced at least nine extreme anti-choice bills in the Senate during MacDonald’s tenure.

For years, MacDonald represented the Diocese of Manchester, which opposes all abortions and most forms of contraception. In this capacity, MacDonald is known to have assisted the cause of former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte in pursuing her defense of New Hampshire’s unconstitutional parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, even after the law had been invalidated here.

Taken together, MacDonald’s history compels a focused and comprehensive inquiry into his willingness to protect a woman’s right to access abortion when needed and to exercise personal autonomy in her reproductive health care decisions.

New Hampshire women deserve a chief justice who understands the importance of abortion access to our ability to live the lives we deserve. The freedom to obtain an abortion must never be compromised; that choice is essential to women’s economic success at every level, from the personal to the societal. According to the Guttmacher Institute, women who lack this fundamental human right are at greater risk of poverty, abuse and poor health.

We are living at a time when abortion rights are in grave peril, and when our state Supreme Court may well become a bulwark against their further erosion or even elimination. We need to know if MacDonald believes in a woman’s right to control her pregnancy and terminate it if she chooses, for personal or health reasons. We need to know if he agrees that the state has an extremely limited, if any, role in circumscribing that right. And, we need to know how he interprets the right to privacy and the limits of government under the New Hampshire Constitution and whether he is prepared to uphold state laws or constitutional amendments intended to codify a woman’s right to choose abortion.

A failure by the nominee to answer these questions with clarity will foreshadow an uncertain, and we believe unacceptable, risk to the future health, lives and freedoms of New Hampshire women.

We do not know what is in Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s head and in his heart about our right to privacy and our reproductive freedoms. We do know that on June 26, our executive councilors will have an opportunity to attempt to find out. We hope they will.

Susan Arnold, of Strafford, and Monica Ciolfi, of Concord, are reproductive rights advocates and former board presidents of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire.

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