Jun 27, 2016 6:10 PM
NH1 News Political Director
CONCORD – Monday’s stunning Supreme Court ruling on abortion instantly impacted New Hampshire’s blockbuster U.S. Senate race.
And the decision by the high court justices came just two days before a crucial Granite State showdown over funding for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which could impact the Granite State’s wide open race for governor.
In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down one of the nation’s most toughest restrictions on abortion, throwing out a Texas law that said clinics providing abortion services must meet the same standards as surgical centers. The measure also mandated that physicians performing abortions have admitting status at nearby hospitals.
The law was passed in 2013, and since then the number of clinics in the Lone Star state providing abortion services shrank from 42 to 19.
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who’s challenging Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte this year, put out a statement moments after the ruling was handed down.
“It's critical that we fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions and control her own destiny, and today’s Supreme Court ruling affirming this fundamental right is a victory for women and families everywhere,” Hassan wrote.
The governor went on to criticize Ayotte, writing “unfortunately, there are far too many in Washington – including Senator Ayotte – who are still working to restrict women’s access to affordable health care. Senator Ayotte believes Roe v. Wade should ‘certainly’ be overturned and has voted six times to defund Planned Parenthood. She supports the backward Hobby Lobby decision that allowed employers to deny access to contraceptive coverage to women, and has repeatedly voted to end New Hampshire’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion program, which would strip tens of thousands of Granite State women of their access to life-saving preventative care with no out of pocket costs.”
Hours later, Ayotte’s office released a statement, which was first reported by NH1 News.
“While the Supreme Court has spoken in this matter, Senator Ayotte supports the right of states to ensure appropriate standards of care that fully protect women's health. As part of her commitment to ensuring that all women have access to quality health care, she has successfully worked to protect access to mammograms, fought to expand access to contraceptives, and supported securing more funding for breast and ovarian cancer research,” wrote Chloe Rockow, a spokeswoman in Ayotte’s Senate office.
The reproductive rights of women have been an important issue in the race between Ayotte and Hassan, which is one of the most high profile, expensive and negative U.S. Senate showdowns this year, and will be a crucial contest in deciding whether the Democrats regain control of the chamber.
In an interview with NH1 News hours after she launched her campaign last October, Hassan said “Sen. Ayotte’s stand against planned parenthood, she voted to defund planned parenthood. That’s deeply, deeply, concerning.”
Days later, the conservative third-party group One Nation launched a seven-figure ad buy in the Granite State defending Ayotte’s record on women’s healthcare.
In April, NH1 News was first to report that Ayotte was the target of the first Senate TV ad this cycle by the political wing of Planned Parenthood.
New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, praised the ruling.
“A woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her health, family and future is a Constitutional right in America and I am happy to see the Supreme Court reaffirm it,” Shaheen said in a statement. “This is an important victory for women across the country, not just in Texas. We cannot play politics with women’s health and, time and again, the Court has made this clear. Today, the Supreme Court sent a signal to state legislatures that have made it their duty to subversively dismantle a woman’s right to choose – targeting healthcare providers and creating barriers to access care is fundamentally unconstitutional.”
Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, who represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, weighed in as well, writing “every woman deserves the ability to make her own health care choices – not the government, not her employers, and not state legislators. I applaud the Supreme Court for standing up for the right of every woman across the country with this ruling.”
But it was a very different message from the only Republican member of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, Frank Guinta.
The congressman from the 1st CD wrote “as we saw in Philadelphia, where Kermit Gosnell committed unspeakable violence against babies and their mothers, abortion facilities must meet basic health and safety standards. Today’s Court decision removes common-sense provisions written to protect the safety and well being of the woman. Liberal justices granted abortion clinics a dangerous degree of latitude that our society would never permit for similar medical practices.”
Ruling impacts gubernatorial battle
The decision by the high court justices preceded by two days a showdown on the five member New Hampshire Executive Council over state funding for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, a vote that is front and center in the race for the Corner Office.
At stake, a $549,000 contract for PPNNE that was rejected last summer by the council. Councilor Chris Sununu, who had previously voted in favor of the contract, joined the two other Republican members of the council, Joe Kenney and David Wheeler in voting against the contract.
Democratic Councilors Colin Van Ostern and Chris Pappas voted in favor of the contract.
Van Ostern and Sununu are now both running for governor. On Friday Van Ostern put out a statement urging Sununu to vote in favor of the contract.
On Monday, reacting to the Supreme Court decision, Van Ostern wrote "on Wednesday, New Hampshire's Executive Council now has the chance to follow the Supreme Court's lead by restoring state funding for birth control, cancer screenings, and annual exams that was shut off last summer by Chris Sununu and two other men despite its broad bipartisan support. It's time to right this wrong and restore these funds."
Sununu said on Monday that “I’m in the process of reviewing the proposed contract and continuing to talk and listen to people on the matter. As I’ve always done, I will cast my vote on Wednesday with the best interest of my constituents in mind.”
For the second time in four days Manchester Mayor Ted Gatas, a rival for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, fired away at Sununu.
“Councilor Chris Sununu has repeatedly voted for state contracts that provided tax dollars to Planned Parenthood. He flip-flopped his position in recent months only after he began to think about running for governor. Now he is refusing to say how he will vote on a similar contract before the Executive Council this week – raising concerns that he is preparing to change his position again,” Gatsas wrote.
“New Hampshire doesn’t need timid politicians who hide from tough questions and refuse to give their positions on important issues. Councilor Sununu has had plenty of time to review this contract and he needs to pledge that he will vote against taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood,” he added.
Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Connolly urged Sununu to vote in favor of the contract.
“When the health of tens of thousands of Granite Staters—and their access to safe, affordable care—is at stake, there’s only one way to vote,” Connolly wrote. “That's why I urge the Executive Council to approve this critical funding for Planned Parenthood. Earlier today, I sent an open letter to my councilor, Chris Sununu, laying out the case for this contract and noting my expectation that he will do the right thing and vote to support it, along with his fellow councilors.
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