Governor Sununu signs budget bill restricting access to abortion and teaching about discrimination-related topics

The Republican-owned state legislature sent the bill to the governor’s office on most party line votes.

by Andrew Sasser | 2/7/21 5:20 am

Statehouse Democrats unanimously opposed the budget – and were joined by several Republicans.

Source: Can Stock Photo

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu enacted a controversial new statewide budget bill on Monday. Items included in the budget bill include new restrictions on abortions, limits on the teaching of concepts such as critical race theory by public institutions, and checks on the governor’s power to declare the state. emergency. Hanover’s four representatives in the State Chamber voted against the bill.

State Representative Sharon Nordgren D-Hanover said the bill was one of the most “radical” bills she had seen enacted during her tenure. State Representative and government professor Russell Muirhead D-Hanover added that he believed Republican officials chose to add these “toxic” amendments in order to satisfy extremists within their party.

“Nothing of what [Republicans] proposed in the budget could have been passed on their own merits, ”Muirhead said. “They didn’t even try to form a centrist coalition.

One of the most controversial of the amendments is a provision prohibiting the teaching of “discrimination” – for example, the idea that a person is inherently racist or oppressive because of their race or origin – by public employers. and in schools. The bill also included language that would exempt workplace awareness training and public university professors from any potential liability in the event of lawsuits brought by students or employees. In response to the inclusion of this provision, 10 of the 18 members of the Governor’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council resigned.

Muirhead said that while the bill is unlikely to have an impact on Dartmouth faculty because Dartmouth is a private institution, it could act to “censor” public school teachers in conversations about the race and history. He added that because the wording of the bill has no specific scope, it could serve to prevent teachers and employers from expressing themselves freely in the classroom or in the workplace on these sensitive topics.

“This is a page from a totalitarian manual,” Muirhead said. “If state bureaucrats find that what teachers say breaks the law, school systems will be vulnerable to loss of state support. “

Kate Hilton ’99, who previously asked the College to take a stand against a controversial previous finance bill, said the amendment acts as a “fairness gag order” to prevent discussions of systemic racism and sexism in schools, police departments and other public employers. She added that even though the bill’s provisions will only last until July 2023, they still present major problems for educators.

“There will be a big legal battle over the constitutionality of the bill, and there will likely be legal battles in school systems over this bill that will cost taxpayers money,” Hilton said.

Hilton added that she believes Dartmouth as an institution should take action to fight the bill, such as submitting an amicus brief on the impact the bill could have on the families of employees at Dartmouth. She also asked the College to issue a statement opposing this amendment.

In contrast, Representative Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the amendment seeks to strengthen previous anti-discrimination legislation. He added that the bill will prevent schools and employers from telling individuals that they are inherently “guilty” because of some aspect of their identity.

“Schools should always teach the rich context of the American experience, the good and the bad,” Edwards said. “However, they should avoid pointing fingers at white children in a classroom and saying, because of your race, that you are inherently oppressors.”

Another controversial provision of the budget bill introduces new restrictions on abortion. The amendment makes abortions after 24 weeks illegal, except in a medical emergency. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is the only hospital in New Hampshire that perform abortions at or after 24 weeks, and under current New Hampshire law, there is no threshold beyond which an abortion cannot be performed. In addition, before any abortion, a doctor would be required to perform an ultrasound to determine the age of the fetus.

The DHMC did not respond to requests for comment at press time.

Nordgren said this bill could make it more difficult to recruit and retain OB / GYN doctors and nurses because they could be held criminally responsible for performing an unauthorized abortion. She added that the ultrasound requirement could also serve as a “shame mechanism” to discourage women from having an abortion.

“This bill is just one form of harassment of people who might need reproductive services,” Muirhead said. “This is a fundamental attack on the autonomy of doctors and women.”

Edwards said the amendment was intended to strike a balance between the rights of a mother and the rights of an unborn child. He added that the limit has been set at 24 weeks to ensure women have access to comprehensive testing to make an informed decision about whether or not they want to carry their babies to term.

“At some point, we have to respect the life of the unborn child,” Edwards said. “Many other states have set limits after 24 weeks.” Currently, 23 states have restrictions on abortion at 24 weeks or earlier.

The budget, which was passed with only Republican votes, also includes significant tax cuts and the introduction of paid family medical leave. Additionally, the bill requires the Governor of New Hampshire to address the state legislature every 90 days when a state of emergency is in place. This amendment was added to the bill due to controversies over Sununu’s handling of the pandemic.

Edwards said some of these non-budget amendments, like restrictions on the governor’s emergency powers, were added to the budget because it would be more difficult for Sununu to veto the bill. He added that Sununu, although initially opposed to this amendment, eventually accepted the reform to restore some political power to the legislature.

Nordgren said “right-wing radicals” in the State House have made these amendments a “requirement” to pass a budget, and those Republican House members are seeking to enact further restrictions on the governor’s powers during future legislative sessions.

Dartmouth Democrats Chairman Miles Brown ’23 said he was “very disappointed” with the passage of the bill, and added that the bill showed the consequences that races to local and state governments can have.

“While the Democrats have won many races at the top of the standings, we haven’t done so well in the other races,” Brown said. “Even though these races aren’t that glamorous, it’s really important for us to focus on them. ”

Brown added that Dartmouth Democrats will distribute information to students and members of the Dartmouth community on the bill, and they look forward to boosting the student vote for the 2022 midterm election as an opportunity. potential. take over the state house, senate and executive council.

Nordgren said she believed this budget could hurt Sununu’s future political ambitions, especially if he tried to run against Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan in 2022. She added that while Sununu had a lot of support for his response to the pandemic, he will have to answer to “follow the radical right”.

Muirhead said the bill “should raise serious concerns among the electorate, and it could weaken [Sununu’s] ability to run a successful campaign.

Representatives for the New Hampshire house and co-sponsors of Bill Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, and Karen Umberger, R-Kearsarge, did not respond to requests for comment. Rep and co-sponsor Ken Weyler R-Kingston declined to comment, writing in an email that he felt Dartmouth was “so extremely liberal” that any interview “would be biased.”

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