Cancer screenings and other health care services could be severely disrupted as a result of GOP officials' actions.
New Hampshire has long had a history of supporting abortion rights, but that's changed. Now, clinics that provide abortion in the state are being denied funding, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu — who claimed to be "pro-choice" when he ran for reelection in 2018 — signed into law the first abortion ban in the state's history last month.
The move to undermine funding for clinics that provide abortions began last year, when New Hampshire's Executive Council, which must approve all state contracts, added an audit provision for clinics that receive money from the state's family planning program. The council alleged, despite much evidence proving otherwise, that state funds were being used for abortions at places like Planned Parenthood, a use that is illegal in New Hampshire.
There was no question the imposition of an audit provision was designed to delay — or strip — funding to the clinics. The timing of the audit provision requirement ensured that clinics would not receive money before the start of the next fiscal year. At the time, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services warned the Republican-controlled Executive Council that other kinds of care, such as cancer screenings, would be severely disrupted by cutting off these funds.
Even though all the clinics have undergone audit proceedings, the Executive Council denied them funding in September, December, and again earlier this week.
In September, while the audits were still in process, the council refused to approve contracts for clinics despite the state's health and human services commissioner, Lori Shibinette, saying all state providers were in compliance and none of them used public funds for abortions.
In December, the audits were complete and confirmed no commingling of funds. Indeed, Shibinette explained to the council that the audit found the state "doesn't even pay enough to fund their regular family planning," much less subsidize any abortion services. However, the audits did find other minor financial issues, but nothing related to using government funds for abortion.
The clinics then addressed these audit issues and corrected all problems, which the state confirmed. Still, it didn't matter. Earlier this week, the Executive Council voted yet again to deny funding. David Wheeler, who has led the charge against funding the clinics, said there wasn't enough evidence that state money wasn't being used to fund abortions even with an audit. When Shibinette asked Wheeler and the other Republicans on the Executive Council what information would be sufficient to satisfy them, they had no answer.
As Republicans on the Executive Council strangle clinic funding, other anti-choice Republicans in the state have rammed through new laws that restrict access to abortion. Republicans attached the abortion bills to the state budget, which required Sununu to agree to the bills or veto the entire budget mid-pandemic.
As of Jan. 1, 2022, the state has its first gestational ban ever, which bars abortions after 24 weeks and has no exceptions for the pregnant person's health.
Now, providers who perform an abortion after the 24-week mark could face both civil and criminal penalties, including being charged with a felony. For example, the 'father of the fetus' can sue a provider for monetary damages if they are married to a person who obtains an abortion after 24 weeks.
The new law also requires an invasive ultrasound. During the early stages of their pregnancies, ultrasounds are internal, not external, meaning pregnant people have to undergo vaginal penetration with a camera, and if they are uninsured, pay around $400 for the process.
Republicans, who control both legislative chambers in the state, aren't stopping with a 24-week abortion ban or an ultrasound requirement. They're working on new bills, including a ban that would kick in at six weeks of gestation. Another law would allow biological fathers to ask a court to prohibit a partner from having an abortion.
What all this shows is that abortion access is precarious even in states where there has been a historic commitment to ensuring that abortions remain legal and accessible. If abortion opponents continue to control New Hampshire's legislature and governorship, the state will likely pass even more laws restricting access.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.