Sununu’s Legacy of Using Women’s Bodies for Political Gain

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

New Hampshire’s fetal personhood bill is expected to become the latest example of what those who have been following New Hampshire’s reproductive rights policies already know: Governor Sununu consistently steps on women’s bodies to rise in his own political career.

SB 66, passed by the NH Senate on June 1, assigns full personhood to fetuses at 20 weeks, an arbitrary milestone with no medical basis. Like most anti-choice bills, this one hides under the guise of “protecting pregnant women,” (Rep. John Burt-R), using theoretical defense of women as its supposed goal. Thanks, but NH law already covers “purposely or knowingly causing injury to another resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth” under its definition of First-Degree Assault, a Class A felony.

How does it protect pregnant women to separate their rights and interests from the fetuses they carry? The result of SB 66 is that a woman could be charged for medically-necessary or even life-saving termination after 20 weeks.

Fetal personhood and fetal homicide bills are trending in GOP-controlled legislatures across the country — a movement that is making pop-culture comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” less and less hyperbolic. Red-robed and white-bonneted activists like those seen in Concord last week warn of a future where fertile women are reduced to host bodies. That is the practical effect these laws.

Governor Sununu has already expressed his enthusiasm for signing fetal personhood into law. But his words have never been a true indicator of his actions, particularly when public opinion or a personal political gain is at stake.

Sununu’s politics made national headlines in 2015 when, as Executive Councilor, he cast the deciding vote to defund Planned Parenthood. The vote was particularly notable because four years previous, he’d made headlines as the deciding vote to restore funding to the women’s health organization. In 2016, he’d change positions again — his third time as the tiebreaking vote with alternating outcomes, solidifying his no-position position on the issue.

Much like retweets of President Trump which demonstrate his own words as his best rebuttal, you can find a Sununu quote to fit almost any position, especially on Planned Parenthood. In 2011, he said, “Let me be clear that I am not fan of Planned Parenthood,” countered by 2015 Sununu, who said, “I’m probably the most supportive Republican of Planned Parenthood in the state.”

In 2011, he articulated the absolute medical necessity of Planned Parenthood for his district’s constituents: “In my district — I represent about a quarter-million people — Planned Parenthood is the only option… no group could have effectively mobilized on short notice to replace the entire territory covered by Planned Parenthood.” 2011 Sununu knew at that time that branding himself as a “pro-choice Republican” was the best way to hold his seat in a competitive New Hampshire seacoast district. But 2015 Sununu reassured everyone (including, perhaps, his 2011 self) that defunding Planned Parenthood would have no effect at all: “Nobody’s going to lose any services,” said 2015 Sununu after his vote to cut federal Title X funding from NH’s biggest provider of reproductive health services.

He announced his candidacy for Republican governor a month later.

Perhaps the closest we’ll get to Sununu’s true feelings on Planned Parenthood was a statement Early-2016 Sununu made, when he articulated how his stance on the organization was informed by how it affected him personally. “They proved themselves to be bullies and I don’t do business with bullies,” he said of Planned Parenthood. Note in his statement the absence of perspective as a representative for his constituents, his district or the state. His words were not those of a public servant, but those of a thin-skinned individual who felt personally maligned by constituents expressing their displeasure at his playing politics with their health.

Mid-2016 Sununu surprised everyone by changing his position again, voting to restore funding to Planned Parenthood. Is it a coincidence that at that time, Planned Parenthood had a 73% approval rate among NH voters, who would be selecting a new Governor later that year?

If Sununu signs fetal homicide into New Hampshire law, as 2017 Sununu has said he would very much like to do, it will confirm that headlines, Google searches and history books will forever tie him to his notorious flip-flops on women’s rights and their ability to make choices about their own bodies.

Sununu’s opportunistic flip-flops betray the trust of all 1.3 million constituents in New Hampshire. Evidence is clear and decisive: women’s health and well-being is one of the top indicators of healthy places and economies. Put your thumb on the scales against women, and you’re tipping the balance against a prosperous future for everyone. Is Governor Sununu not thinking this through? Or does his leadership extend only as far as his next political opportunity?

New Hampshire women are tired of having their access to health care depend on Sununu’s election cycles. Sununu’s signature on a fetal personhood bill would squarely align him with the extreme anti-choice faction of a flailing Republican party. It would also make it abundantly clear: Sununu’s only use for the women of New Hampshire is as rungs on his personal political ladder.


This article was originally published in The Portsmouth Herald.

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