Editor's Note: With 47 days left until the presidential election, starting on September 20 PolicyMic's Audrey Farber will be posting a daily update on the state of abortion rights in the U.S., covering legislative challenges to Roe v. Wade in all 50 states. Check back in every day to keep track!
Rick Perry was right: abortion is a states’ right issue. With the exception of the blanket decriminalization set forth in Roe v Wade, setting abortion policy falls on the states, creating a patchwork of abortion regulations across the country. From complicated and intricate parental information and consent laws in Utah, to a relatively restriction-free policy in New York (no more the hatchet jobs à la Dirty Dancing), it is up to state governments to set policies regarding a woman’s right to choose.
That’s not to say there aren’t national forces trying to influence discourse and, ultimately, policy-making across the country. The Republican Party hopes to introduce a constitutional amendment banning abortion across the board.
From the GOP 2012 Platform:
“We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
But as of now, aside from the legality established in Roe vs. Wade, a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is completely dependent on the laws — and attitudes — of the state in which she lives.
Northern New England
Abortion statutes in Maine fall under public health, abiding by Roe v. Wade’s decriminalization of abortion policy. Maine protects caregivers’ and hospitals’ rights to refuse to abort a pregnancy while protecting a woman’s right to choose.
The statute reads:
“It is the public policy of the State that the State not restrict a woman's exercise of her private decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability except as provided in section 1597-A [parental consent for minors]. After viability an abortion may be performed only when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. It is also the public policy of the State that all abortions may be performed only by a physician."
Maine has not been plagued by politicized abortion rants from its politicians: moderate Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have both repudiated the GOP platform’s stance on abortion, saying it alienates women (Collins) and calling on Romney “to dissociate himself from the extremes within our party” (Snowe). When Snowe vacates her Senate seat at the end of this year, it will likely remain pro-choice as the front-running candidates to replace her are all pro-choice, including former Maine governor Angus King.
While legal access is relatively unrestricted, abortion clinics are not necessarily convenient. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “in 2008, 69% of Maine counties had no abortion provider. 51% of Maine women lived in these counties.” Public funding is only available in cases of rape or incest.
Maine residents will be more focused on marriage equality this November, so abortion policy and attitude are unlikely to change.
Despite being a part of the allegedly enlightened “academic liberal elite” Northeast (complete with yachts and Sperry Topsiders), the Tea Party-controlled New Hampshire state legislature has been waging a war on women’s reproductive rights for the past year or so.
Last July, the New Hampshire Executive Committee voted to reject state funding to Planned Parenthood, funding that went almost entirely to contraception and routine women’s healthcare. (Planned Parenthood does not use public money for abortions.)
“I am opposed to abortion. I am opposed to providing condoms to someone. If you want to have a party, have a party but don't ask me to pay for it," said Councilman Raymond Wieczorek.
In March, the New Hampshire State House passed a law requiring both a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion (what they refer to as a “reflection period” in 132-B:3 IV) and the presentation of informational materials that include the inaccurate claim that abortion is linked to cancer, both to take effect in January of 2013. Also in March, the New Hampshire House voted to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks (text of bill here.) Neither the "fetal pain" bill limiting abortions after 20 weeks nor the waiting period bill made it out of Senate Committee for a full vote.
A partial birth abortion ban was enacted in June, and then vetoed by the governor of New Hampshire for its “potential to jeopardize the health of women in rural areas." The veto was overridden by the Legislature. In January 2012, the State House introduced a bill to “prohibit the use of public funds for abortion services.”
The New Hampshire State House also introduced a resolution urging the United States DHHS to “rescind its rule requiring health plans to provide sterilizations and contraceptives,” based on its being a violation of freedom of religion and a violation of the concept of “a free republic.”
Despite these recent developments, New Hampshire abortion statutes fall under public health, and, as in most states, permit a judge to allow a minor to access abortion services in lieu of parental consent.
With an overwhelmingly Republican State House and Senate, and with Democratic incumbent John Lynch declining to run for a fifth term, any hope for backtracking New Hampshire has lies in its 2012 gubernatorial race between Libertarian John Babiarz (“pro-life, but do not believe that government has the right to regulate an individual or couples decisions in reproductive choice”), Democrat Maggie Hassan, and Republican Ovide Lamontagne.
It will be a close call.