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Democrat challenging Sununu in Upper Valley to discuss health care access

  • New Hampshire Senator Tom Sherman, D-Rye, left, talks with retired nurse midwife Mindy Schorr, right, following a discussion on abortion and the availability of obstetric care in the state at River Valley Community College in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

  • New Hampshire Senator Tom Sherman, D-Rye, front, discusses abortion and challenges facing patients and providers since the overturning of Roe v. Wade at River Valley Community College in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Sherman is challenging Gov. Chris Sununu in November's general election. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • New Hampshire Senator Tom Sherman, D-Rye, listens during a discussion about abortion with a slate of Upper Valley health care providers at River Valley Community College in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Sherman, 64, was trained as a gastroentirologist and is in his first term in the New Hampshire Senate. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2022 9:06:02 PM
Modified: 9/27/2022 9:06:02 PM

LEBANON — The Democratic state senator who is challenging Republican incumbent Chris Sununu for the Granite State governorship in November said during a Tuesday visit to the Upper Valley that a new law that restricts abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy threatens to destabilize women’s health care in the Granite State.

“This law all by itself it was completely unnecessary,” Dr. Tom Sherman, a Democratic state senator from Rye, said Tuesday.

“Now that it’s there, it could cause the collapse of (an) intertwined mutually dependent system across three states,” Sherman said, pointing to the fact that New Hampshire shares some health services with its neighbors in northern New England, Vermont and Maine.

Sherman, a 64-year-old trained gastroenterologist, spoke during a roundtable discussion with Upper Valley health care providers held at River Valley Community College in Lebanon and moderated by City Councilor Karen Liot Hill.

The providers, two family medicine physicians, a midwife and a retired maternal-fetal medicine specialist all spoke about the problems they see with the law, including that they expect it will make it more difficult to recruit maternal-fetal medicine specialists. Without them, they expect it will be more difficult to recruit others who care for women, including family physicians.

Without access to such care, the providers said they’re worried that working families will choose to live elsewhere, further exacerbating workforce challenges in New Hampshire.

“I don’t think the governor understood how abortion relates to the health care in obstetrics,” Barry Smith, chairman emeritus and professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, said during Tuesday’s roundtable. “It’s the whole thing that matters.”

Since June when the Supreme Court issued its decision reversing Roe v. Wade, Democrats across the country have poured tens of millions of dollars into television advertising focused on abortion rights, and women have been registering to vote in greater numbers than men, the Associated Press has reported.

It remains to be seen if the strategy will be successful in New Hampshire. Tuesday’s conversation came as Sherman trails Sununu, 47, in polls. A poll released last week by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that if the election were held Sept. 13, Sununu would have won by a double-digit percentage, 55% of the vote to Sherman’s 37%. In September 2020, Sununu held a similar lead over his then-Democratic challenger, Dan Feltes, who Sununu eventually defeated 65% to 34%.

Sununu’s campaign on Tuesday disputed Sherman’s predictions about the effect of the state’s abortion law on health care in the state and called them “outlandish.”

Ben Vihstadt, a spokesman for the Sununu campaign, called Sherman’s statements on abortion “a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that as state Senator, Tom Sherman sponsored an income tax, voted to increase electric rates and supported keeping schools closed.”

Vihstadt noted that “like Massachusetts, Maine and virtually every other state in America, New Hampshire now has limits on late-term abortion in months 7, 8, and 9 of a pregnancy.”

Smith said during Tuesday’s roundtable that New Hampshire’s law differs from the late-term restrictions in neighboring states in that it penalizes providers with up to seven years in prison and fines of up to $100,000.

Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut prohibit abortion at viability, an unspecified point in pregnancy generally considered to be between 24 and 26 weeks, the New Hampshire Bulletin has reported. Massachusetts also has a 24-week ban and parental notification law but dropped criminal penalties for providers.

Exemptions to New Hampshire’s 24-week ban are permitted only when the mother’s life is in danger or in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality.

Don Kollisch, a family physician who practiced in the northern Grafton County town of Monroe, N.H., early in his career, said he worries that the current ban on abortion at 24 weeks is only the beginning of restrictions. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, some states have already restricted abortion to six weeks of pregnancy, which is before some women realize they are pregnant.

“When rights are constricted, they usually start small and then gradually things tighten,” Kollisch said, noting that he is especially concerned about access for women in rural areas whose local hospital likely has already stopped delivering babies and who may lack transportation to get to health care services that are further away.

Mindy Schorr, a midwife who practiced at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for more than 30 years, said her concerns center around the way the new law and laws around the country affect women’s ability to make choices about reproduction.

“My concern is that women have agency over those decisions and how deeply they affect her life trajectory,” Schorr said.

Dr. Peter Mason, a longtime family physician at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, said that abortion was illegal when he was in training. Because of that, he saw women who had received illegal abortions die or become unable to have children due to complications from the procedures.

“I never want to go back to that period,” he said.

Following the roundtable discussion, Sherman said that if he’s elected, he intends to work to return to the state’s abortion policies before the 24-week ban went into place last year. He said, “No matter who the Legislature is, we have to fix this.”

On Tuesday evening, Sherman was slated to meet with Dartmouth College Democrats in Hanover.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.


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