Fact check: Republicans say abortion isn’t banned in NH and not a top issue for voters

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Chris Ager and party leaders announced a new campaign last week challenging Democrats’ description of the state’s abortion law as a ban.

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Chris Ager and party leaders announced a new campaign last week challenging Democrats’ description of the state’s abortion law as a ban. ANNMARIE TIMMINS—New Hampshire Bulletin

By ANNMARIE TIMMINS

New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 07-02-2024 10:13 AM

At a time when national Republican leaders often struggle to talk about abortion restrictions they’ve supported, the New Hampshire Republican Party is making those restrictions central to its 2024 campaign strategy.  

Last week, party Chairman Chris Ager and several Republican leaders marked the second anniversary of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade with a message for voters: New Hampshire does not have an abortion ban. 

When describing the law, passed in 2021 as part of the state budget, Republicans emphasized that abortion is legal and unrestricted in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy and allowed with restrictions after that. 

Those restrictions are limited to the life of the mother and fatal fetal anomalies. The law also carries criminal and civil penalties other states have not enacted.

Ager said Democrats who call the state’s law a ban are telling “lies to generate votes.” 

The party’s new awareness campaign and associated website, abortionfactsnh.org, aims to claim the politics of abortion from Democrats, who made repealing what they call an extreme abortion ban a top promise to voters.

Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, put it this way at a press conference announcing the campaign.

“We’re just tired of the lies and it’s affecting young women,” she said. “When you lie and tell them that they can’t get an abortion in New Hampshire, that it’s banned, how was that good? It’s misinformation, and it has to stop.”

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We fact-checked five of the Republicans’ abortion arguments. 

“Most New Hampshire voters agree with and support the law New Hampshire has in place.” 

This statement on the party’s new website is not backed up by the source it cites: a 2022 poll from St. Anselm College’s Institute of Politics that did not ask respondents about the law. 

Instead the survey asked individuals which of five abortion-related statements reflected their position on abortion.

In what the survey labeled the “pro-choice” category, 29 percent said there should be no restrictions on abortion, while 42 percent supported “some restrictions,” though the types of restrictions were not identified.

In the poll’s “pro-life” category, 21 percent said “abortion should not be allowed except under very narrow circumstances,” and 5 percent thought abortion should be banned, with no exceptions. Again, examples of “narrow restrictions” were not given.

The remaining 3 percent of people said they were unsure.

Asked about the website’s mischaracterization of the St. Anselm poll, the Republican Party responded in an email.

It said the poll’s results show that a “super-majority” (63 percent) of New Hampshire respondents support “some restrictions” on abortion, citing the 42 percent of respondents who support “some restrictions” and the 21 percent who support “narrow restrictions.” 

The party’s email did not note that respondents were not asked about the specific restrictions in New Hampshire’s law.

“Democrats pushing for late-term abortions are out of step with everyday Granite Staters,” it said. “And average voters are not falling for their fear mongering and propaganda, and will reject their extreme position to reverse our common-sense restrictions.”

The only polling on New Hampshire’s abortion law was done in July 2021, a month after it passed, by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. At that time, it included an exception for the life of the mother but not fatal fetal anomalies.

The results showed that far more respondents opposed the new law (56 percent) compared to supporting it (33 percent). “This policy is unpopular,” the UNH poll results said.

“New Hampshire’s abortion laws are some of the most lenient in the country.” 

This needs context.

Nine other states and the District of Columbia have the country’s most lenient abortion laws in that they set no gestational limits, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But there are 25 states with more restrictive limits; 14 ban abortion and 11 set restrictions prior to New Hampshire’s 24-week limit.

That puts New Hampshire among the 16 states that fall in the middle, with restrictions that begin between 24 and 26 weeks of pregnancy. 

New Hampshire’s law is more lenient than some states in other ways. 

The state does not require an ultrasound for abortions prior to 24 weeks; mandate counseling before an abortion; or require a waiting period between meeting with a provider and having the procedure.

But New Hampshire’s law is also less lenient than others when it comes to penalties: up to seven years in prison and a fine between $10,000 and $100,000 for violating it. 

House lawmakers passed a bill to remove those penalties last year but Senate Republicans voted unanimously to defeat it. 

The Republicans’ new campaign website does not mention the criminal and civil penalties. Instead, it quotes the state law but omits the penalties section. Party leaders also did not acknowledge those penalties in announcing their new campaign until asked by a reporter.

Carson, who voted down the House bill that would have eliminated penalties, could not identify them at last week’s press conference when asked but said other states’ penalties are “much, much harsher.” 

“(Penalties are) not atypical,” Carson said. “If you look in other states around the country, they also have criminal penalties and some of those criminal penalties are much, much, much harsher. I ask you, what good is it to create a law when you can just give somebody a loophole to get out of it.” 

New Hampshire’s law is very similar to laws in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and many other states, including California.

It’s difficult to compare abortion laws among those states. 

All six have enacted similar gestational limits on abortion. But only Maine’s law carries the type of criminal and civil penalties New Hampshire’s does, according to a review of state data assembled by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

There are other differences too.

Each state has laws protecting the right to an abortion, something New Hampshire Republican lawmakers have rejected. All six states also allow Medicaid to cover abortion care. In New Hampshire, Medicaid is limited to the termination of pregnancies that endanger the life of the mother or result from rape or incest.

Exceptions differ from state to state, too. 

New Hampshire has joined all six states in allowing abortion after the gestational limit if the life or health of the mother is at risk. 

New Hampshire also added an exemption for fatal fetal anomalies in 2022 that three of those states do not have. 

New Hampshire is alone, however, in not adopting “shield laws” that protect providers who perform abortions on out-of-state residents whose home states ban abortion. 

Inflation, crime, and immigration – not abortion – are top issues for voters.

Recent polling supports this argument. 

In a poll released earlier this month, the UNH Survey Center asked voters to name the most important issue facing the state. “Abortion/women’s rights” placed 16th, with about 1 percent of respondents putting it at the top of their list. 

Lack of housing was by far the biggest concern among respondents, with 36 percent naming it their top issue. That was followed by education, immigration, jobs, the economy, and the cost of living.

St. Anselm College’s Institute of Politics posed a similar question in its January poll. 

When asked what issues were most important in determining how they would vote, respondents put abortion fifth behind the economy/inflation, immigration, government spending, and national safety.

Republicans support the law as it is and oppose changes. 

When Republican Rep. Dave Testerman introduced a bill last year banning abortion after 15 days, his party joined Democrats in overwhelmingly rejecting it. Party leaders and Republicans running for Congress and governor have said they don’t support further restrictions if elected.

The New Hampshire Republican Party’s platform, however, supports significant restrictions. 

It supports the “pre-born child’s fundamental right to life” and “personhood” laws that could equate the termination of a pregnancy with murder. It also states support for a Life at Conception Act, which congressional Republicans have introduced in recent years.

A reporter asked Ager, chairman of the state party, to reconcile that with Republicans’ stated opposition to further abortion restrictions in New Hampshire. Ager noted that the platform “is put in place by our delegates, and that’s a subsection of the Republicans in the state.”

He elaborated.

“That’s our position of belief, but it’s a totally different thing to say what we are going to legislate for the people of the state,” Ager said. “You can believe in something and you can desire it, but when you write legislation, you’re creating laws that you’re forcing people to follow. And so you can have aspirations, which is the platform, but (with) legislation, you’re creating laws that you’re forcing people to follow.”