CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Republican-led New Hampshire House passed two anti-abortion bills Wednesday during a chaotic session held at an indoor sports complex where Democrats walked off the field and the speaker struggled to play referee.
One of the bills would ban abortion after 24 weeks' gestation unless there is a threat to the mother. The other, called the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” would require that “medically appropriate and reasonable” care be provided to all babies after birth. Both came to the House with bipartisan committee votes against them, but the full House ignored those recommendations, advancing the first bill to the Senate and the second to another committee.
The second bill wasn’t scheduled for a vote until Thursday, and when Republicans moved to take it up a day early, most Democrats left the building in protest.
“I’m locking the doors right now so everybody in the chamber will stay in the chamber!” shouted House Speaker Sherm Packard, who later refused to let Democrats back in to vote on the bill.
“They made the choice to walk out,” he said.
With so many lawmakers absent, the bill required a two-thirds majority to advance. It easily cleared that threshold on a vote of 181-49.
House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing called the votes an unprecedented attack on reproductive rights.
“We were determined that we were not going to collaborate with the attack on women’s right to choose,” he said in an interview. “We were surprised when the speaker decided to lock the door and hold people hostage to keep his quorum, and we were also surprised when people who had left and wanted to return were locked out. What we saw today was just an unprecedented abuse of the traditional process.”
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne countered that Democrats abandoned their responsibility to their constituents with what he called “highly juvenile antics.”
When Republicans were in the minority the last two years, “we never took our ball and went home leaving our constituents hanging,” he said in a statement.
Kayla Montgomery of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England called the “born alive” bill “incredibly cruel.” She said it could force doctors to fear being arrested for providing neonatal hospice care and would interfere with a grieving family’s ability to make personal decisions about religious rites and sacraments. But supporters argued that it would prevent babies from being “left to die.”
“This bill doesn’t prevent a parent from holding a nonviable child, this bill respects life,” said Rep. Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson.
Although the debate exposed a clear partisan divide, Rep. Marjorie Smith urged lawmakers to look past that in arguing against the second bill.
“To think that this is a partisan issue is to insult people, Republicans and Democrats alike,” said Smith, D-Durham. “It becomes a partisan issue only when you don’t think of women as members of society with the equal rights and equal responsibilities and obligations of men. Women are not only vessels, women are human beings who have the same thoughts, same questions, same doubts that you have.”
The House met at the sports complex to allow for greater social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.