EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Shaheen reflects on the 27th anniversary of her removing abortion as a crime in NH, looks to threats ahead

On this day in 1997, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, then-Gov of NH signed a bill decriminalizing abortion in NH. 27 years later, she reflects on the enduring impact and the current threats to reproductive rights, urging vigilance against extreme positions in 2024. (Colin Booth/Granite Post)

By Colin Booth

June 3, 2024

On June 3, 1997 — 27 years ago today — then-Governor of New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen signed bipartisan bill SB 34, a piece of legislation with straightforward intent and language.

“This bill repeals the laws making it a crime to perform an abortion.”

The bill repealed three significant statutes related to abortion in the state, including a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion ban, which criminalized abortion. It also repealed a requirement for spousal consent and eliminated the requirement for minors to obtain parental consent for an abortion.

Twenty-seven years later to the day and the law still stands in New Hampshire. But in an exclusive conversation with Senator Shaheen ahead of the anniversary, she and other lawmakers across the state say the law is under threat like never before, with Republicans at every level of state government putting forward greater restrictions regularly, driven by a sea change in the Republican Party that mandates more extreme positions than those from nearly 30 years ago.

“When I signed legislation overturning our outdated 1848 laws that criminalize abortion, there was bipartisan support to do that. There was a Republican and Democratic Party that recognized that those are decisions that should be made by women and families, that they’re not decisions that should be made by the government,” Shaheen said.

She said that, at the time, there was support for the measure from multiple-Republican co-sponsors, and that these Republicans recognized abortion as a personal choice that should not be dictated by politicians.

Earlier this year the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a 160-year-old near-total abortion ban — similar to New Hampshire’s 1848 ban — was enforceable, a decision that threw abortion care in the state into chaos.

RELATED: Women share horror stories caused by red state abortion bans during NH visit

Peter Burling, a former State Senator and Representative who supported the legislation while Shaheen was governor, said that, while there was bipartisan support for the bill, it would never have been signed without a Democrat in the governor’s office.

“It took a woman of Jeanne’s courage to say ‘enough of that nonsense, we’re signing this bill,” he said. “The Republican Party that then existed no longer exists. That party has become a madhouse… The men who control the Republican Party in the state of New Hampshire are interested in controlling women and the basic theme of their agenda is not, in my view, pro-life but it is pro-male dominance.”

Looking back, Shaheen said passing that bill was important for cementing New Hampshire’s status as a pro-choice state. Had those restrictions still been on the books, the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade would have automatically banned abortion in the state.

“New Hampshire had been a pro-choice state. I think one of the things that, as we look back on it now, that’s critical about that is that, had those laws been in place today, after the Dobbs decision, it would have overturned the ability of women in New Hampshire to make our own reproductive decisions. And so it would have had significant impact in that respect, it certainly made a difference.”

While New Hampshire has maintained choice, Shaheen expressed concern about recent moves by the state legislature and Governor Chris Sununu and Republicans running for governor in 2024.

She said, without qualification, Republicans in New Hampshire in 2024 are more extreme on abortion today than they were in 1997 — especially those Republicans running for Governor in the state today.

“Sadly, what we’ve seen as a Republican Party that has moved so far right, that in order to hold office in the Republican party today, people have taken extreme positions on abortion and reproductive rights,” she noted. “And sadly, we’re seeing that in the governor’s race in New Hampshire.”

After nearly three decades, Shaheen’s signature continues to have an impact by keeping abortion legal in New Hampshire. But she warned the fight for reproductive rights is far from over.

“New Hampshire is a state where most people believe that if you’re not doing anything against the law, that what happens in your own families is your own personal right and responsibility.”

Author

  • Colin Booth

    Based in Epsom, Colin Booth is Granite Post's political correspondent. A Granite State native and veteran political professional with a deep background in journalism, he's worked on campaigns and programs in battleground states across the country, ranging from New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

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