While New Hampshire is debating a buffer zone bill that would protect women seeking access to abortion, the state legislature’s new session has also seen the introduction of four bills that pro-choice advocates say could threaten women’s reproductive health and privacy.
The state senate judiciary committee held a hearing Tuesday on SB 319, which would create a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics to protect patients from harassment by protesters, who often claim that they are “sidewalk counselors.” Two dozen supporters came to the hearing.
“Make no mistake, ‘sidewalk counseling’ is nothing more than harassment and intimidation,” said Linda Griebsch, executive director of the Joan G. Lovering Health Center in Greenland, at the hearing. “I have seen it in action, and if any counselor behaved the way some of these people do they would lose their license to practice and no one would go to them for help.”
A woman who identified herself as Barb testified about being harassed before and after her abortion, saying that she hid on the stoop of a building for an hour after protesters shouted at her and followed her down the street.
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Dr. Kenneth Arndt, who once signed a letter agreeing that the murder of abortion doctors is “justifiable,” testified against the bill and said in his own testimony that he did not believe Barb’s story.
The senate committee will likely take action on the buffer zone bill sometime next week.
In the state house, meanwhile, anti-choice bills have been introduced that involve keeping statistics on abortions (HB 1502), including fetuses in existing homicide law (HB 1503), declaring that life begins at conception (HB 1504), and medically unnecessary targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) (HB 1501).
Advocates told Rewire that the TRAP and life-begins-at-conception bills are unlikely to pass the house. The proposed TRAP restrictions would be similar to those that caused one-third of abortion clinics in Texas to stop providing the procedure and would outlaw nurse practitioners from performing abortions. (Last year, California passed a bill allowing that practice as an expansion of abortion rights.) Meanwhile, defining life as beginning at conception could have the effect of outlawing all abortion and even some forms of contraception.
While the fetal homicide bill, HB 1503, has been defeated eight times in New Hampshire, this year legislators will face strong emotional appeals after a pregnant couple killed by a drunk driver made headlines. And the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Leon Rideout (R-Lancaster), has a daughter who lost a pregnancy in a car accident last summer.
“It is heartbreaking when any woman loses a wanted pregnancy, but initiatives like HB 1503 unnecessarily drag abortion politics into tragic circumstances,” Sara Persechino, policy director with NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire, told Rewire. Persechino noted that New Hampshire’s criminal code already has heightened sentences for crimes against pregnant women, and focusing on the rights of the fetus rather than those of the pregnant person represents a “slippery slope to taking away the rights of pregnant women.”
The abortion statistics bill, which received a hearing in a house committee on January 16, has also been defeated numerous times. The bill looks benign on its face but poses significant privacy concerns because it reports data from individual abortion procedures rather than in aggregate, said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
New Hampshire does not collect much public health information in general, Frizzell told Rewire, because of its thinly funded state government. “I think there is little to no will in either party, in either chamber, to spend money we don’t have on creating a unit of abortion police,” she said.
Even though New Hampshire’s legislature tends to vote pro-choice, Frizzell said, misinformation is always a potential problem, especially in a 400-member legislative body where every bill gets a floor vote.
“Some of these TRAP laws can sound very reasonable. Who doesn’t want abortion to be safe?” Frizzell said. “But these bills are deceptive about what the current requirements are, and it takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources just to educate people who would otherwise be supportive so they feel armed with the information they need to act on their values.”