CONCORD – Dalia Vidunas of Concord’s Equality Health Center said she had no doubt that the threats to women’s reproductive freedoms in New Hampshire will grow if Republicans retain the majority next year in the New Hampshire House and Senate.
The executive director of the center that provides reproductive health services accused Republicans of “sneaking in” an abortion ban to the state budget package last June.
She called it “back-handed” and “not the New Hampshire way.”
Although Chris Sununu, as governor, has maintained he is pro-choice and said he did not like some of the provisions of the new ban, including criminalizing doctors and forced, invasive ultrasounds (the latter of which he plans to repeal by signing passed legislation), Vidunas said if re-elected “we can all but guarantee that Sununu and the Republicans will push their anti-choice agenda as hard as they can and they will continue to lie about it.”
Vidunas was one of four people who addressed the press Tuesday, the day before the U.S. Senate’s vote to codify Roe v. Wade at the federal level, which is anticipated to fail.
The Women’s Health Protection Act needs 60 votes. While New Hampshire’s U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, favor it and the Democrats have a narrow majority, they have said it is not likely to get the needed votes from the Republicans.
Instead, it appears likely that abortion access will be decided at the state level in the years to come.
The other speakers at the online event included state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Sherman, a doctor who said the state needs to codify Roe, and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, who has been pushing for family planning contracts that have been turned down by that body’s Republican majority. Stefany Shaheen, a Portsmouth political activist and the eldest daughter of Sen. Shaheen, also spoke.
On Monday, New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation held a similar press conference in which Shaheen, Hassan and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, along with Warmington and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, railed against last week’s leaked draft decision.
Public polling has shown that nationally and in New Hampshire, the public overwhelmingly supports abortion rights and the Democrats hope to use that and the actions of the Republicans in control in New Hampshire to see change at the ballot box this fall.
Vidunas said it can cost up to $4,500 for uninsured women to get an ultrasound in some places in this state, just to satisfy current state law about the gestational age of the fetus they are carrying. After 24 weeks, abortion is now illegal in New Hampshire.
There was never a hearing on the measures last year and no ability for the public to provide input that might have impacted the passage of the new New Hampshire abortion ban, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
In an effort to undo some of the law, legislators have passed a bill that would no longer require an ultrasound procedure before an abortion, except at 24 weeks. HB 1609, which is heading to Gov. Sununu’s desk soon, also adds an exception for fatal fetal anomalies to the 24-week ban.
The governor has said he will sign the partial repeal, but currently, Vidunas said, women are losing their bodily autonomy and are forced to endure a medically unnecessary procedure to comply with new state law and then sent a bill for the ultrasound.
She said elected leaders need to “support this law or support New Hampshire women.”
Equality Health Center provides comprehensive reproductive and sexual health services, including family planning health care services, to people in New Hampshire.
Vidunas said, “Comprehensive family planning services include safe and legal abortions. That is very important for people to understand that family planning is about planning your pregnancies, when and where to have them.”
Warmington noted the Republican-controlled New Hampshire Executive Council has voted several times to reject $1 million in funding for family planning health care contracts with Equality Health Center and other abortion providers.
Under the law, no public money can be used for abortion.
Warmington is currently the lone Democrat on New Hampshire’s Executive Council and she has been publicly pushing Sununu to put the contracts back on the agenda so that the councilors can be accountable to the people for their votes.
Sununu, who has supported the passage of the contracts from the start along with his Health and Human Services Commissioner, said there is no reason to put the measures before the Council unless he hears of some movement among the majority to change their votes on the matter.
Warmington said the current Council majority of Ted Gatsas (R-Manchester), Joe Kenney (R-Wakefield), Janet Stevens (Rye), and David Wheeler (Milford), all of whom are up for re-election, were “hand-picked” by Sununu.
She noted that once the Republicans were seated, he returned the defeated nomination of then-Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to be chief of the state Supreme Court.
When Democrats controlled the Council, the vote was 2-3 to defeat MacDonald but when the 4-1 council was elected, Sununu – who left the chief position vacant for a time – put MacDonald’s name forward and it passed, 4-1.
Warmington noted that MacDonald has been a vocal opponent of abortion rights.
“Sununu cannot spin this,” she said and noted he “sits quietly by” on abortion matters at the council table.
“I will not stop pushing this Council,” she said.
To protect women’s rights, Sherman said New Hampshire needs to codify Roe v. Wade and that won’t happen with Sununu and the Republican majority now in Concord.
“To do that, we need a governor who will actually lead,” Sherman said.
He said Sununu has “broken the trust of Granite State women.”