By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD — The state Senate passed HB 1609, providing an exception to the state’s abortion ban for fatal fetal diagnoses, which now heads to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk.

The Republican-sponsored ban prohibited abortions beyond 24 weeks and required those seeking an abortion to submit to an ultrasound at every stage of pregnancy. The bill clarified when an ultrasound would be necessary and made exceptions to allow abortions for cases of fetal anomalies incompatible with life.

During testimony on the bill, senators spoke of the women who came forward with stories of some of the wrenching decisions they faced when learning that their child would not likely survive.

One woman learned at 36 weeks that her son had skeletal dysplasia, a condition that in his case would prove fatal. Another learned at 22 weeks that her daughter had no chance of survival outside the womb because she had no brain and her heart was missing a chamber. Still another woman learned at 21 weeks that one of her twins could not survive and might compromise the other twin’s life.

Sen. Rebecca Whitley (D-Hopkinton) said, “I want to share my deep gratitude to all the women who have bravely shared their personal stories with us to paint a clear picture of what it is like to endure these complex situations later in pregnancy and show us why it is critical that they and their medical providers have options. … We know that there are many more women who have these deeply personal stories who may not be comfortable attending a public hearing, who can attest that, yes, these circumstances are rare, but they happen to real families, real Granite Staters who need to be able to make these decisions with their family members, their clergy and their doctors.”

Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-Hampstead) opposed the bill, saying there are unanswered questions, including the definition of “incompatible with life.” She noted that one mother whose child had been deemed incompatible with life chose not to have an abortion and the girl is now 14 years old.

“I understand the rationale behind this bill, and I understand the hard decisions that have to be made,” Birdsell said. “However, there are way too many questions, and I don’t believe this bill is ready to be put into law.”

After passage of the bill, ranking member Lucy Weber (D-Walpole) of the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee, said, “Today is a win for reproductive health care in New Hampshire. The provisions in HB 1609 more clearly define the ultrasound mandate and exempt fetal anomalies as an exception to the Republican abortion ban.

“To be clear, the best result would be an outright repeal of the abortion ban included in last year’s state budget. However, the steps taken last month by the House and today by the Senate are critical for Granite Staters facing difficult decisions.”

Sen. Jay Kahn (D-Keene) said, “The public hearing on HB 1609 was one of the most powerful hearings I have ever been a part of. The stories shared by Granite State women, families and medical professionals emphasized the very real fact that every pregnancy is unique and that mothers and families need compassion and flexibility to make these extremely personal medical decisions.”

Planned Parenthood’s Kayla Montgomery said: “The public outcry since this cruel abortion ban took effect has been deafening; all lawmakers should be listening as they consider future efforts to restrict access to abortion care.

“Today we also lament that these women were forced to bare their scars for lawmakers who refused to listen to medical providers and patients last year when they tacked an abortion ban and ultrasound mandate onto the state budget. As their stories have illustrated, real people have been needlessly harmed by this law,” Montgomery said.

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