A record number of state-sponsored anti-abortion bills have been introduced in legislatures across the country. Not shockingly, they are mostly in Red and Red-leaning states with Republican-controlled chambers. But one of the most controversial bills to be introduced as of late has been passed in what wouldn’t necessarily be considered a Republican stronghold — New Hampshire.
Though its current governor Chris Sununu is a Republican — his predecessor Maggie Hassan, is a Democrat. Both state chambers are closely split between the country’s two main parties. Republicans have a slight edge with 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats making up the state Senate. There are 207 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House.
The GOP isn’t letting their slim majority go to waste.
In January, at least five abortion-related bills were introduced in the NH House — ironically, or not, all on the same day, January 5th.
Two of those bills, House Bill 1080 and HB 1625, were sponsored by the same GOP Representative, Mark Pearson, of Rockingham, NH. HB 1625 repeals a previous law creating a buffer zone of 25 feet between anti-abortion protesters. Known as “The Sidewalk Freedom of Speech Act,” it allows protesters to be in close proximity to both patients and staff at any health facility that performs abortions. It states that — despite being “controversial, unpopular and offensive” — anti-abortion rhetoric is protected by the New Hampshire Bill of Rights and is protected free speech.
Such speech consists of handing out pamphlets “in the advocacy of a politically controversial viewpoint” and “is the essence of First Amendment expression” according to the text of HB 1625.
HB 1080, however, goes farther than the scope of most anti-abortion legislation we have seen introduced in other states, giving physicians, pharmacists, and any other health care provider the power not just to perform, consult with, or refer patients for abortions based on religious beliefs, but also includes the power to deny, prescribe, advise, or consult on what the state calls “artificial contraception.
The Health Care Freedom of Conscience Bill, as HB 1080 is called, defines artificial contraception as:
“The use of a medicine, drug, substance, device, or surgical procedure to intentionally prevent ovulation, fertilization of a human egg cell, or implantation of a fertilized human egg in the uterine wall.”
This means birth control pills, intra-uterine devices, and in vitro fertilization.
But here’s the kicker — if a patient reports the physician, they can be sued for discrimination and become responsible for not less than $10,000 in damages plus attorney’s fees. Any regulatory body that takes action against such a physician can also be liable for damages.
HB 1080 prevents a medical licensing board from censure or accountability for refusing reproductive healthcare services.
I reached out to the sponsor of both bills, Representative Mark Pearson, at the number provided on New Hampshire’s official government website. Rep. Pearson answered.
Me: May I speak to Rep. Pearson?
Me: My name is Ty Ross with Occupy Democrats. I saw that you are the sponsor of the recently passed HB 1080. May I ask you a few questions?
Pearson: Who? Who are you again? Who are you with?
Me: Ty Ross, with Occupy Democrats. I’m a journalist. I’d like to ask you about HB 1080.
Pearson: Ummmm, I don’t have time right now to go into that.
Me: Is there a time you will be available? I can call you back?
Pearson: Yeah, ummm, it’s been a long legislative session. I can’t really answer that right now. I don’t know…
Me: Well, thank you, sir, for your time.
I then reached out to Pearson’s GOP colleague in the House — and co-sponsor of both bills — Representative Jeanine Notter of Hillsborough.
The phone rang 10 times, before going to voicemail. I left Rep. Notter a message:
Me: This message is for Representative Notter. My name is Ty Ross with Occupy Democrats. I see that you are co-sponsor of the recently passed House Bill 1080. I would like to ask you a few questions in regards to your motivation behind the legislation and if there is any other proposed anti-abortion legislation being considered? You can reach me at xxx-xx-xxxx. Again, this is Ty Ross with Occupy Democrats. I’d like to speak with you in regards to your co-sponsored legislation House Bill 1080.
New Hampshire’s local NPR station, New Hampshire Public Radio, did a series with eight women sharing their stories of abortion. The women crossed all ages, demographics, and had varying reasons for their choice. Most chose to remain anonymous but their stories were no less impactful.
“I am almost 70 (August of this year) married for some 44 years, and with three adult children. I became pregnant when our second was not quite two. At the time I could not imagine carrying a pregnancy, caring for a toddler and young 5-year-old, and working. I told my husband I wanted to terminate the pregnancy and he was totally in support of my decision. I went to my OBGYN and received the same support and [they] set me up with an appointment in Hanover at Dartmouth-Hitchcock where I was received with professional and compassionate care — covered in total by my insurance. NOBODY questioned my decision, asked me to justify it or tried to change my mind. NOBODY judged me. My husband and I later went on to decide to have a third child.”
“I convey this story to you because I feel that EVERYONE, not just someone as privileged as I am, deserves this right to choose and to receive the kind of emotional, medical and financial support that I did.”
In the past five years, New Hampshire has been in the middle of an opioid crisis, one that has seen its foster care system overloaded. New Hampshire leads the nation in the highest rate of fentanyl-related overdoses, and according to the National Library of Medicine, is more than three times the national average.
This is important, because the restrictions on not just abortion, but access to birth control with the passing of HB 1080 means more unwanted children born into a system — and a life — that is already overburdened
In 2019, over 14,000 children in New Hampshire were affected by the opioid crisis. There are an estimated 100,000 in need of addiction treatment in the state, with only 4-6%, actually getting it.
Opioid addiction in the state of New Hampshire is classified as neglect. Yet, more legislation, resources, and money are put toward incarceration and the foster system, than treatment, prevention, and birth control.
I reached out to HB 1080’s sponsor, Rep. Pearson, one more time. This time via email. His bio lists him as a clergyman and member of the National Association of Christian lawmakers.
I asked if he felt the legislation he sponsored is a government overreach and a violation of the separation of church and state. I asked if he will be proposing any bills to address the root causes of unwanted pregnancy, to focus on mitigation and prevention. I asked if he planned to allocate resources to the increasing opioid epidemic in his state.
I’m awaiting a response. I won’t hold my breath.
Read more from NHPR here.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick