It was six Republicans, not Democrats, who sponsored the bill this year adding an exception to the state’s 24-week abortion ban for fatal fetal abnormality. And anti-abortion groups made sure their constituents knew.
Days before Tuesday’s primary, campaign flyers hit mailboxes in Pittsfield and Chichester telling residents that their Republican state representative, James Allard, was a “cultural liberal.” Similar shippers arrived in Newbury and New London claiming that their longtime House Representative, Dan Wolf of Newbury, had “abandoned women and unborn babies”. Rep. Brodie Deshaies, a Republican from Wolfeboro, was also targeted.
Of the four sponsors who sought re-election, only Wolf beat his challenger hands down. Deshaies and Allard, who said he was “blasted” by negative senders, lost their seats. Another co-sponsor, Rep. Bonnie Ham of North Woodstock, faces a recount after results showed her beating her opponent by just two points.
Cornerstone Action, among anti-abortion groups that targeted Republicans who supported exemptions, celebrated the defeats on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Little-discussed aspect of last night: A purge in the State House primaries of several GOP incumbents who supported abortion until birth. Some will only return to Concord because no pro-life candidate ran against them,” the tweet read.
In a second tweet, Cornerstone Action wrote, “GOP reps who persist in promoting the slaughter of viable six- to nine-month-old babies in NH should fulfill their days in office because Republicans are numbered.
The sponsors of the fatal fetal anomaly exemption have acknowledged that their contentious votes on other bills related to education, the right to work or parental rights could be at stake in their primary destiny. Yet, as Cornerstone Action’s tweet pointed out, Wolf and Ham and Republicans who favored exemptions have yet to cross the abortion hurdle.
The general election will be the first time most voters have gone to the polls since GOP lawmakers passed 24-week abortion in the state and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
If there was any doubt that abortion would be on the November ballot, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham assured it by announcing Tuesday that he would seek a National 15-week abortion ban with exceptions only for rape, incest and the life or health of a mother.
Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center and professor of political science, said the outcome will depend on which side of the debate can attract more voters.
“The decision (Roe v. Wade) is certainly something motivating,” he said. “Democrats are absolutely pushing this because this is something where you have a large group of people who are angry about it. I’m not sure it will be as high as they think because it’s really hard to stay angry.
Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund sounded the alarm the day after the primary. “The results of the New Hampshire state primary have set the stage for a fight for abortion rights, as voters in the Nov. 8 general election will elect state and federal lawmakers with a unprecedented power to control our bodies and our future,” its statement read.
Cornerstone Action tweeted its support for Graham’s abortion ban proposal shortly after it was announced. “Graham probably calculated that this bill would serve to expose Democrats as pro-abortion extremists,” he said.
Rep. Jess Edwards, a Republican from Auburn, led the effort that got 71 House Republicans to join him in passing the fatal fetal abnormality exception, but did not face the same kind of attacks from anti-abortion groups. Asked about the possibility of bringing like-minded voters to the polls in November, Edwards said the party needed to better explain its support for abortion restrictions.
“We’re not very good at fundraising for abortion,” he said. “I think most responsible Republicans think what we should do is stick with the law as it is because we still have a public education challenge to make sure the public understands the law. They need to understand that our main concern is that at 24 weeks we are dealing with an unborn baby who has human rights.
It will be months before we know which abortion-related bills will be before lawmakers in January. But some are certain.
Representative Alexis Simpson, a Democrat from Exeter, has filed a ‘legislative bill petition’ seeking to reintroduce a bill tabled this year that would block the state from further restricting abortion by codifying the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks in state law. It could garner some Republican support, said Anna Brown, executive director of Citizens Count, which tracks legislation and candidate positions on dozens of issues.
In response to one of the organization’s recent polls, nearly two dozen Republican candidates said they would support a state law guaranteeing the right to an abortion before 24 weeks’ gestation. If they win their general election, the Democrats will need their votes to succeed.
Meanwhile, Rep. Kurt Wuelper, a Republican from Strafford and chairman of the anti-abortion caucus, told the Tuning Monitor earlier this month that he expects efforts to further restrict abortion will return after the failure of the last session. Among these is a bill that would have allowed any man, without proving his paternity, to interrupt a woman’s abortion for weeks with a lawsuit. Another would have abortion prohibited after detection of fetal heartbeat.
It remains unclear whether Democrats will renew efforts to repeal the abortion ban or relax it with additional exceptions for rape, incest and maternal health. If this session is any indication, the former will get virtually no Republican support and the latter will face the challenge of even Republicans who voted to add the fatal fetal abnormality exception.
As presented, House Bill 1609 included exceptions for rape, incest and maternal health.
In interviews before the primary, Wolf and Deshaies said they dropped support for those additional exceptions after talking with other Republicans.
“There were even reservations I had about the health exception, which I found too broad,” Deshaies said. “I think where there was consensus within the caucus was that if someone is raped or incestated, they have up to six months to make the decision to have an abortion.”
Wolf, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “I’m happy with where it ended. I’m very comfortable with that.
Deshaies said campaigning before the primary convinced him the law was in line with most voters’ position on abortion.
“I think voters are really paying attention,” he said. “I knocked on a lot of Republican doors. (They say) there should be basic life protections, but also restrictions on the extent to which the government is allowed to regulate people with any problem, and that includes this very complex problem.
A few days before the election, Allard of Pittsfield received an email from an angry voter saying he was removing his campaign sign from his yard. Allard asked the man to be more specific, but guessed he was angry with his vote on abortion or perhaps his votes on bills related to parental rights and vouchers. private studies, both of which he rejected with the Democrats.
Allard did not guess his work on abortion.
“When these bills are introduced, you have to deal with them in the way that you think is best for the greatest number of voters,” he said. “And you have to let the chips fall where they can. If you get the occasional call, “I’m throwing your sign away,” I guess you can’t win them all.
Allard said he would have been unlikely to support any other exceptions. And he is confident by assurances from House leaders that he will not push for further restrictions.
“I’m pretty proud that 1609 is on the table now,” he said. “But I also agree with what I’m hearing from (Republican) leaders that right now New Hampshire doesn’t need to dig any deeper. We haven’t even seen the effects of the decision made last year. Hopefully in future sessions this topic will be left alone and allowed to seep through.
It’s safe to say that won’t be the case.