New Hampshire Officials Split on Abortion

New Hampshire (search)'s Democratic governor has found himself on the opposite side of an abortion dispute from his own attorney general, a Republican holdover from the previous administration.

The case involves New Hampshire's parental-notification law, which was struck down by the courts. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (search)'s bid to have the law reinstated.

Ayotte, the first woman appointed to the state's top law enforcement position, has not disclosed her personal beliefs on abortion, and has said she is simply duty-bound as attorney general to defend a law enacted by the Legislature.

Gov. John Lynch (search), who was elected last fall, opposes the law. He has not said whether he will try to replace Ayotte.

"He's going to look at her whole record. This is not something that is going to disqualify her from renomination. He's going to look for the best person to run the best law office in the state. Kelly Ayotte will be one of the candidates he considers," Lynch spokeswoman Pam Walsh said. "He respects the tradition of independence of the attorney general's office."

Ayotte, who may end up arguing the case before the Supreme Court, said she briefed the governor's office before filing the appeal, and "I was aware the governor disagreed with the underlying policy."

The law required that a parent or guardian be notified 48 hours in advance if an abortion was to be done on a woman under 18. Opponents argued the law lacked exceptions in cases where the mother's health is in danger.

In New Hampshire, the governor nominates the attorney general, and the nomination is subject to approval by a five-member council. Ayotte was appointed by Republican Gov. Craig Benson, who signed the law she is defending.

Ayotte, who at 36 is one of New Hampshire's youngest attorneys general, rose to the top position after Attorney General Peter Heed resigned last year over allegations he inappropriately touched a woman at a conference.

In an editorial, the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader, the state's largest newspaper, said of her role in the abortion dispute: "While we generally believe it is good for a governor to have an attorney general who shares his values, Ayotte has shown that she will put the state's interests above those of any politician or political party and above her own. When you have an attorney general like that, you keep her."

NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire has not called for Ayotte's replacement.

"We've expressed our concern over her appeal," said Liza Dube, the group's political director. "We haven't tried to politicize this."

New Hampshire's attorneys general, who have included now-Supreme Court Justice David Souter, have staunchly defended the office's independence.

In the 1970s, Souter fought Gov. Meldrim Thomson's push for casino gambling, fearing it would open the state to organized crime. Thomson lost; Souter called it "my greatest crusade."

But Souter went to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend Thomson's decision to lower American flags on Good Friday.

"My standard, in flag cases and any others, has been simply that this office will represent any governor in a proceeding brought against him in his official capacity whenever his action can not reasonably be judged patently illegal or unconstitutional," Souter said in 1990.