GREENLAND – During a discussion with reproductive healthcare providers and activists on Monday, Congressman Chris Pappas said more is at stake today than just three weeks ago, with the recent vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Seated outside at the Joan G. Lovering Center – a women’s health clinic – former speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives Terie Norelli said Roe v. Wade is hanging on by a thread.
Over the weekend, President Donald Trump announced he is nominating Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative federal appeals court judge, to fill the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat on the Supreme Court. Trump has said it is “certainly possible” his Supreme Court pick will be involved in revisiting the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
“People are scared, people are frightened,” said Lisa Leach, executive director at the Lovering Center.
Pappas, a Democrat who is pro-choice, said reproductive healthcare and a woman’s right to choose are “an important fight we can’t let go of in this moment of our history.”
Pappas’ Republican opponent in the November election is Matt Mowers, a former State Department official in the Trump administration. Mowers has labeled himself “pro-life” with exceptions for the life of the mother.
Several women at Monday’s event addressed the Trump administration’s Title X domestic gag rule, which bans providers in the federally-funded program from consulting with their patients about the option of abortion. The Lovering Center, for example, decided to pull out of Title X last year because of it.
“Everyone should be able to make that choice themselves and politicians should not be getting in the way,” Pappas said, noting a “political agenda at work that seeks to destroy the Affordable Care Act and take away a woman’s right to choose.”
Planned Parenthood recently estimated the gag rule risks access to reproductive healthcare for more than 16,000 in New Hampshire and 4 million nationwide.
Leach said the gag rule is “so hurtful.” Clinics such as hers, she said, “provide so much prevention.” Taking away federal funding is “just shooting ourselves in the foot.”
“The conversation between the physician and his or her patient is private, whether you’re talking about cancer, risky behavior or pregnancy,” said Dr. Cynthia Bear, a obstetrician-gynecologist and board member at the Lovering Center. “Trying to regulate that relationship should never happen.”
Bear said given the state of the economy as a result of COVID-19, if insurance coverage for birth control is lost with the ongoing fight over the Affordable Care Act, “that won’t be something (many women) can afford. We need to protect that.”
Sadie Faucher, a leader with #Fight4Her, a mobilization around ending the gag rule, said the pandemic has specifically exacerbated issues around access to women’s health care, like the closure of clinics. She noted “how crucial these next 36 days are,” referring to the number of days until the November election.
Monday’s roundtable also took aim at Pappas’ opponent. Activist Sierran Lucey called Pappas a “stark, stark contrast to where Matt Mowers stands.”
Pappas said Mowers “is very proud of his opposition to Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose.”
“Your opponent would love to criminalize abortion and make this lovely facility illegal,” Faucher added.
Following a request for comment to the Mowers campaign after Monday’s event, a statement was given from Seacoast businesswoman and Republican activist Renee Plummer of Portsmouth.
“Shame on Congressman Pappas for fear mongering and lying about Matt Mowers’ record to score political points,” Plummer said. “Matt Mowers supports increasing women’s access to health care and providing more federal funding for screenings and preventative care.”
At the State Department, Plummer said, Mowers worked “hand-in-hand with organizations to expand health care access for women across the world.”
“In addition to providing further resources to help women in Sub-Saharan Africa prevent the spread of HIV, Matt prioritized programs to provide more access to cancer screenings as well as tools to empower women and girls to make their own healthcare decisions and build programs to prevent sexual assault,” she said. “It’s clear Congressman Pappas is running scared because he’s been exposed as a serial income tax raiser, but Granite State women will see through these disgraceful lies about Matt Mowers on these important issues.”
Leach said “criminalizing abortion” does not make abortion go away, rather it “stops safe abortions.”
The restriction of abortion in other states, Pappas said, has not produced “better outcomes,” but rather “unfortunate” ones, and does not save money in the healthcare system overall.
Norelli supported Pappas’ efforts to codify Roe v. Wade, which would make women’s right to abortion a federal law, rather than leaving it up to state supreme courts.
Meanwhile, the 40 Days For Life campaign is currently underway, which sees daily picketers outside of the Lovering Center on the public sidewalk protesting the clinic’s abortion offerings. Individuals were on site Monday holding signs that read “pray to end abortion.”
According to the campaign, 40 Days For Life is “a peaceful, highly-focused, non-denominational initiative that focuses on 40 days of prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil at abortion facilities, and grassroots educational outreach. The 40-day timeframe is drawn from examples throughout Biblical history.”