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A newly introduced bill in New Hampshire would ban abortion at 15 days of pregnancy, effectively outlawing the procedure entirely — and indicating either a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of how pregnancy and pregnancy dating work. And Democrats in the state believe it could be setting other abortion bans up to look less strict.
“A 15-day ban is basically a ban at fertilization,” said Mary Ziegler, an abortion law historian at the University of California, Davis. “It just isn’t telling you that’s what it is.”
The bill — referred to the state House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee for 2024 — is unlikely to pass in New Hampshire, where Republicans have a trifecta in state government but voters tend to be less conservative. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a 24-week abortion ban in 2021; he has publicly said he supports access into the second trimester of pregnancy. Last year, legislators rejected a proposed six-week abortion ban, though a majority of Republicans in both chambers backed the bill.
The first sign of pregnancy is often missing a menstrual period, a cycle that typically lasts 28 days, or about four weeks. Gestational age is measured by counting back to the first day of the last menstrual period. By the time someone misses a period, indicating they might be pregnant and should take a test, they are often already at least four weeks along.
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By the time someone took a test, if they did at the earliest possible time, they would be 13 days past the proposed New Hampshire cutoff. That’s not taking into account the menstrual cycles can be irregular, with periods often delayed because of factors including stress, diet, exercise, fatigue or depression. About half of all pregnancies are unintended.
Even in states with six-week abortion bans, clinicians have reported patients testing for pregnancy as soon as they suspect a missed period and still barely making it to an appointment before the state’s deadline.
Home tests typically have a higher failure rate when used extremely early in pregnancy. At much earlier than four weeks, there aren’t enough hormones circulating to indicate that someone has conceived. And at 15 days, in particular, the person likely isn’t even pregnant yet. Ovulation, the point at which an egg is released for potential fertilization, generally doesn’t occur until halfway through the menstrual cycle, or about two weeks.
“We have total bans, and state legislatures know how to ban abortion,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a professor at the University of Texas Law School who specializes in health law. “This is sort of silly because there just isn’t a pregnancy at 15 days. There’s not a fertilized egg at 15 days.”
State Democrats anticipate the new proposal could set the scene for a debate next year over whether New Hampshire should pass a 15-week abortion ban, with the 15-day proposal making it seem more moderate. Republicans in purple states have tried to push 15-week abortion bans as a compromise measure — though such efforts recently failed in Virginia, where the GOP’s endorsement of such a ban is believed to have sunk their chances of taking control of the state legislature.
Some of the same New Hampshire Republicans behind the 15-day abortion ban have put their names to a bill concerning abortion rights after 15 weeks, though the details of that proposal aren’t yet available.
“This is not what Granite Staters want,” said Rep. Alexis Simpson, deputy leader for the New Hampshire House Democratic caucus. “I’m worried that if we follow what has happened with 22 other states in the country after Roe v. Wade — where abortion bans have been enacted fully — there will be this move to decrease the time in which a person can have an abortion lower and lower and lower.”