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Abortion is legal in New Hampshire—but is it accessible? One woman’s story

Abortion is legal in New Hampshire—but is it accessible? One woman’s story

Kelly, a New Hampshire resident got an abortion at 18 weeks and three days. (Courtesy Kelly)

By Mrinali Dhembla

June 17, 2024

Kelly’s journey was already difficult—but a lack of guidance plus trouble with getting her health insurance to cover the procedure made getting an abortion even harder in the Granite State.

Around two years ago, Kelly*—a lifelong New Hampshire resident—made the difficult decision to terminate her first pregnancy. 

She was 18 weeks and three days along.

Early Days

Kelly was nine weeks into her pregnancy when she first learned there was a problem. She’d been having pain and vomiting for a while, but when she started to bleed, she went to the emergency room at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough. 

While in the emergency room, the doctors first thought she’d miscarried—but on further examination found a subchorionic hemorrhage. That’s when blood collects under one of the membranes attaching the amniotic sac to the uterine wall. They sent Kelly home with orders to return the following day for an ultrasound. 

The next day, while looking at Kelly’s fetus on the ultrasound, doctors saw some indication of an unusual nuchal fold, which they said could be related to a genetic disorder. 

Since no other tests pointed to such an abnormality, doctors decided Kelly’s prenatal care could continue as usual, but with regular ultrasounds every two weeks.  

“I thought I was losing my child. I was relieved to find that the fetus had a heartbeat,” Kelly said. “So we kept staying pregnant.” 

Kelly said as her pregnancy progressed, ultrasounds showed that her fetus was showing increasing signs of abnormalities.

“It wasn’t until I was 16 weeks when they told me that this fetus was incompatible with life,” she said. That’s when her providers referred her to a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Elliot Hospital in Manchester. 

Getting a Straight Answer on Abortion

Kelly, who was going through an emotionally difficult time, said she asked her doctors at Monadnock Community well before week 16 if abortion would be a viable option for her. But abortion, she said, wasn’t even brought up as a potential outcome during her regular visits.

“​​When I had asked at about week 11 or 13 if I needed an abortion, all Monadnock told me was they would make sure I got the resources I needed, but they didn’t help me with any of that,” Kelly said. 

Once at Elliot, Kelly said she started off with a genetic counselor, who diagnosed her fetus with  hydrops fetalis—a severe swelling in an unborn baby, often leading to fluid buildup around the abdominal organs, heart, or lungs. 

“She was growing out of control. She was going to die inside me,” Kelly said. 

Doctors told her she could either wait for her fetus to die, or get an abortion—for which they gave her contacts to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a facility in Boston.  

Well into her second trimester and facing an abortion, Kelly said she felt alone and uninformed. 

And that’s when things got worse.

An Unnecessary Barrier 

Kelly knew she’d need to miss at least two days of work and spend money to travel to access abortion care. But she wasn’t expecting her health insurance to deny covering the full procedure as standard health care.

“I probably would have had to look for financial assistance from either friends or family or make a payment plan,” Kelly said. That’s because her out-of-pocket abortion was going to cost $4,000.

It was just two days before her procedure that Kelly serendipitously got connected to the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire through a family member. 

Founded in 2019, the Reproductive Freedom Fund has helped more than 550 patients across the state and almost 250 patients from outside New Hampshire pay for abortion procedures and access telehealth medication abortions.  The Reproductive Freedom Fund also helps patients overcome other financial barriers to abortion care, such as transportation costs, childcare costs, lost wages, and meal assistance. 

Josie Pinto, the founder of the Reproductive Freedom Fund, said abortion costs tend to rise with gestational age, and sometimes it simply happens because patients don’t know they have options for financing an abortion. 

“We’ve definitely been in cases where a patient didn’t know that abortion funds existed, and they didn’t have the money for an abortion, so they kept waiting to make their appointment,” Pinto said. “And by the time they made it, they were dealing with maybe a $3,000 cost.”

Since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the costs associated with abortion care have increased—so much so that the average American may not be able to afford one. 

“I would say the average expense for most people is somewhere around like $500 to $550,” Pinto said. “But that is really patients who are under 14, 15 weeks of pregnancy. We’re seeing those rates and prices can go up a lot from there.”

The New Hampshire state government has compounded the problem, by deciding that the people with the fewest resources should receive no insurance coverage for abortion care services. They do this by regulating what’s covered by Medicaid—a government-run health insurance program for low-income people, funded by the federal government. 

That makes New Hampshire one of 36 states that do not ban abortion, but do ban the use of federal funds for abortion services. 

Without programs like the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire, only people whose private health insurance covered abortion, people who could pay out-of-pocket for an abortion, or people whose friends and family would be willing to help them pay for an abortion would easily be able to access the care they need.

Kelly said in addition to the financial and logistical hurdles she faced, the experience was emotionally shattering, and she had to seek therapy to cope with her loss. 

“We really wanted to be parents,” she said. “In fact, we were parents. We were making our first decision as parents to put our daughter out of misery.”

*Editor’s Note: We are using Kelly’s first name only at her request, out of concerns for her safety. 

Author

  • Mrinali Dhembla

    Based in Manchester, Mrinali Dhembla is Granite Post's multimedia reporter. She's previously worked as deputy editor at The Keene Sentinel, and has experience writing for many national and international publications. When not doing journalism, she likes to cook food (and eat it).

CATEGORIES: HEALTHCARE
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