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NH House votes to ban abortion after 20 weeks

By Norma Love
Associated Press / March 29, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—For the fifth time in two weeks, the House passed a bill intended to restrict abortions in New Hampshire, voting Thursday to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion providers would face felony charges punishable by up to 15 years in prison for violating the proposed law, although the mother would not be prosecuted. The House voted 190-109 to send the bill to the Senate. The fate of the bill and four others sent to the Senate is uncertain.

Laura Thibault, interim executive director of the local NARAL Pro-Choice America group, says no elective abortions are provided in New Hampshire now beyond 20 weeks.

The bill would exempt later-term abortions under certain circumstances: to save the life of the mother and the fetus, or to avert the serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.

NARAL says six states have bans in place for abortions beyond 20 weeks and nine, including New Hampshire, introduced bills this year.

The Legislature traditionally had rejected limits on abortion before Republicans took control in 2010 with one exception -- enactment of a parental notification law for minors in 2003 that was never implemented and was later repealed by Democrats. Republicans overrode Democratic Gov. John Lynch's veto of a similar bill last year and it took effect in January. Lynch, who supports abortion rights, has not said if he would veto the latest bills.

Besides the 20-week ban, the House voted over the past two weeks to ban partial-birth abortions, require women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, approve a study to recommend a process to collect statistics on abortion and to change the timing given judges to rule on whether a minor can have an abortion when she does not want to notify her parents in advance.

In January, the House also voted to ban publicly funded contracts with organizations that provide elective abortions even if private money is used to pay for the service. State officials say the bill could jeopardize New Hampshire's $1.4 billion annual Medicaid program. The Senate has a hearing scheduled on the bill April 5.

"The governor believes these are about health care decisions between a woman and her doctor. He doesn't think state government should get involved. That's the principle he'll use reviewing these bills should they reach his desk," Lynch press secretary Colin Manning said this week when asked about the bills.

State Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester, argued New Hampshire should recognize that the fetus feels pain at 20 weeks.

"If we are tolerating what is happening to these unborn children, can we not at least have some empathy and say they feel pain," she said of the bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

She said anesthesia should be administered before the fetus "is chopped into pieces" and aborted.

But state Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, said the bill was flawed and should be rejected. Weber also disagreed with Souza that the medical community is in agreement on when the fetus feels pain.

Weber also said the bill made no sense in exempting abortions to save the life of the fetus.

The House also voted 238-59 to effectively kill a bill that would have allowed medical providers to refuse to provide services to patients receiving procedures including abortion, birth control, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, sterilization and stem-cell research.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert Rowe told the House the proposal could put patients' lives at risk.

The House also voted 271-19 Thursday to establish a committee to recommend a process for collecting statistics on abortion.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill requiring pregnant women to wait 24 hours after requesting an abortion before they can undergo the procedure. Doctors would have to explain the procedure and alternatives to abortion as well as the fetus' probable gestational age.

The bill makes an exception if the mother's life is in danger or delay will create a "serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Violators would be open to malpractice lawsuits or disciplinary action by the state board of medicine.

The bill was a scaled-back version of a much broader bill requiring women to see descriptive pictures of a fetus and a video.

Two weeks ago, the House passed two other abortion bills to the Senate.

One would change the timing for judges to decide whether a minor can have an abortion if she wants to obtain one without notifying her parents. New Hampshire's two-month-old parental notification law currently requires judges to issue rulings in such cases within 48 hours. The bill, a proposed amendment to the law, would allow such rulings to be issued within two court business days.

The House also voted to ban partial-birth abortions, which are already prohibited under federal law.

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