CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — In a largely symbolic move, New Hampshire is adding to its books Jan. 1 its second law limiting abortion — the state's only such law affecting adults — a ban on partial-birth abortions.
It is the only survivor of five major abortion-related bills acted on by the outgoing House and Senate, where Republicans enjoyed supermajorities.
Former Republican House Speaker William O'Brien led the House in passing bills to ban abortions after 20 weeks, ban partial-birth abortions, require a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, ban government funding to any health provider performing elective abortions and exempt employers from providing contraceptive coverage, considered by some to be chemical abortion because the pills prevent pregnancy. Only the partial-birth ban survived the Senate.
Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto was overridden by the Legislature despite an existing federal ban on the procedure.
Supporters said they didn't trust the federal government to prosecute its law.
Abortion rights activists argued unsuccessfully the procedure is rarely performed in the country — not at all in New Hampshire — and in only the most traumatic circumstances. They said it deprives mothers and doctors the freedom to address severe fetal abnormalities regardless of the situation.
In a partial-birth abortion, a fetus capable of living outside the womb is partially extracted before being destroyed.
Doctors who violate the ban under the new law can be charged with a felony, jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to $100,000. The mother cannot be prosecuted.
Twenty-nine states have enacted bans on abortions after 12 weeks, but most aren't enforced, according to the National Abortion Rights Action League. Nine states have no health exception for the mother, according to NARAL.
New Hampshire's law exempts partial-birth abortions to preserve the mother's life, but Dr. Barry Smith, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist speaking for the New Hampshire Medical Society, said satisfying the exception in New Hampshire would be next to impossible. He said the law requires two doctors unaffiliated with each other to agree the procedure is necessary — but in New Hampshire, hospitals with doctors specializing in maternal fetal medicine collaborate.
"The patient would have to be referred out of state," said Smith.
But Smith said the impact of the new state law is effectively moot since partial-birth abortions aren't done in New Hampshire. Abortions done after the second trimester are sent out of state, where medical alternatives that don't involve aborting a viable fetus can be used, he said. They might involve the rare case of a mother who hoped to carry a child to term who develops heart problems after 24 weeks, he said.