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Doctors, medical students urge Sununu to veto NH budget over abortion ban

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/15/2021 9:40:40 PM
Modified: 6/15/2021 9:40:45 PM

WEST LEBANON — Nearly 200 health care professionals and medical students are asking Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to veto the Legislature’s proposed budget over a provision that would ban abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

They argue the proposed ban could jeopardize the health of pregnant women and deter doctors and researchers from moving to New Hampshire.

Under legislation passed by the state Senate, providers who perform abortions after the 24-week mark could face Class B felony charges, punishable by up to seven years in jail and fines between $10,000 and $100,000.

“New Hampshire already struggles to retain medical professionals and we are deeply concerned that these criminal penalties will undermine the state’s efforts to recruit and retain clinicians,” the letter said.

The missive was sent to Sununu’s office Monday by Dr. Oge Young, a retired obstetrician and gynecologist who teaches at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.

In all, more than 60 doctors, nurses and medical students with Upper Valley ties co-signed the letter.

They include Dr. Barry Smith, chairman emeritus and professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at the Geisel School of Medicine; Dr. Ilana Cass, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; and Dr. Maria de Gracia Padin, chief medical officer of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s southern New Hampshire practices.

The abortion ban, which would take effect Jan. 1, was added into New Hampshire’s budget trailer bill by Senate Republicans who argue that technology has advanced to a point that fetuses are “viable” outside the uterus 24 weeks into pregnancy.

While the proposed ban contains an exception for instances when “a pregnant woman’s life or major bodily function is threatened,” there are no exceptions for fetal health, rape or incest.

Dr. Patricia Glover, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Geisel School of Medicine, said the budget provision would have a chilling effect on medical care and training of medical students. She also noted that abortions are rarely performed that late in a pregnancy .

“This is not a casual decision,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.

Glover, who practiced family medicine for four decades, said about 2% of all abortions occur that late, and “in fairly dire circumstances.”

Those include situations where the life of a woman or her fetus is in danger, she said.

“The prospect of criminal penalties and incarceration are obviously quite bothersome, frightening and would serve as a drastic inhibition on clinicians willing to learn how to perform the procedure,” Glover said.

But the pressure from health care providers doesn’t appear to have much of an effect in the House, where lawmakers on Monday consented to the Senate ban, meaning it will likely go to Sununu’s desk.

The governor has described himself as “pro-choice,” but said earlier this month that he doesn’t intend to veto the budget over the provision.

“To be clear — he did not propose this legislative amendment. But as he said last week, he’s not going to veto an entire state budget over a change that would bring NH in line with 43 other states” Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said in an email Tuesday.

“Any claim that this is a radical restriction is just partisan politics,” he added.

Polling released by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center in March found that Granite Staters are divided on the matter, with 48% in support of the ban after 24 weeks and 40% opposed.

New Hampshire residents appear to be largely in favor of at least some forms of abortion remaining legal, with 38% of those polled saying that abortion should be legal in all circumstances and 50% saying it should remain legal in limited circumstances. Only 8% were in favor of banning it outright.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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