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Upper Valley providers question late-term abortion bill

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2021 10:23:49 PM
Modified: 3/13/2021 10:23:47 PM

Editor’s Note: This story was published in the March 1, 2021, edition of the Valley News.

WEST LEBANON — A bill pushed by Republicans in the New Hampshire House that would ban abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy could threaten the health and safety of pregnant women, according to local doctors and abortion-rights groups.

“This bill will not do anything to reduce the number of abortions,” Kayla Montgomery, acting senior director of Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund said in an interview Friday. “This bill will only cause harm to people who need abortion care later in pregnancy.”

But anti-abortion activists, including New Hampshire Right to Life President James Hennessey, say the late-term abortion bill is another step toward protecting the life of a “viable” fetus. In an interview Friday Hennessey said a child can be born and survive outside the womb at 24 weeks.

“For me the fundamental question is ‘who is a person?’ and ‘what rights does a person deserve?’ ” Hennessey said. “Unborn children deserve protection.”

The bill, which was passed by the New Hampshire House Wednesday on a 191-160 vote, is one of two bills approved this week that center on prenatal care. The other, dubbed the “Born Alive” bill, would require doctors to give medical care to any fetus born alive, regardless of the infant’s health status.

Though the first bill allows abortions in the case where the mother’s life is at risk, many medical providers say it still puts pregnant women at risk of serious health complications.

The bill requires “a doctor to wait for a medical condition to worsen and become life-threatening before being able to provide evidence-based care to their patients,” said Dr. Ellen Joyce, an Ob/Gyn at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in an email Friday. “Physicians cannot always predict what course medical conditions or complications will take or how quickly they may lead to injury or death.”

She said pregnancy can cause a myriad of serious health complications, like infection and placental abruption, which can quickly lead to other, even more serious health risks like stroke, blood loss and septic shock, which can all be fatal.

“Who decides how sick is sick enough?” she wrote. “Do you need to be unconscious and on a ventilator before someone will save you?”

Joyce and other supporters of abortion rights argue that most abortions occur in the first trimester, and very rarely after the first 21 weeks of pregnancy.

“The focus of abortion later in pregnancy inflames a false narrative that does not reflect medical reality,” Joyce wrote.

Montgomery noted that the bill does not provide an exception in cases where the health of a fetus is suffering, meaning women would have to carry a fetus to term even in cases when it may not survive.

She also said the bill disproportionally affects marginalized people, including women who may not be able to pay for an abortion earlier in their pregnancy, or women and teenagers who don’t realize until late that they’re pregnant.

“Every pregnancy is unique,” Montgomery said. “It’s a one-size-fits-all policy that does not work because pregnancy is not one-size-fits-all.”

But New Hampshire House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, a Republican from Auburn, asserted that there should be support for the bill across the board.

“At 24 weeks the unborn are considered viable, and this bill allows them to have the same right to life as any other human,” Osborne said in a statement Wednesday.

Hennessey, of the Right to Life Group, said the impact of the bill should be “pretty little” because abortions are rare at 24 weeks of pregnancy. But with that argument, he said it’s confusing why some people oppose the bill.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me why they would come out so strongly against it,” Hennessey said.

Abortion rights advocates also came out in opposition to the second bill, which requires doctors to give “medically appropriate and reasonable” care to infants born alive or risk a criminal charge.

Joyce said the legislation is especially painful for mothers who give birth to a child who has “no chance of survival,” but whom doctors are required to try and provide medical attention to anyway.

She said the number of people these bills affect is small, but for those few people, it is “life-altering.”

“Government interference in these cases (is) just cruel and puts the patients in untenable circumstances that prolong and increase their suffering,” Joyce wrote.

The bill banning abortions late in pregnancy was sent to the Senate, while the second bill was sent to another House committee last week.

Anna Merriman can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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