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NH Senate voting on 6 abortion bills

By Norma Love
Associated Press / April 23, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—The New Hampshire Senate is taking up a half dozen abortion bills Wednesday, including one that could jeopardize the state's federal funding for its Medicaid program.

The bill would cut off taxpayer funding to hospitals, clinics and others who perform elective abortions, although an amendment proposes exempting hospitals. That would end funding to six Planned Parenthood of Northern New England centers and several other rural clinics. The amendment's sponsor -- Republican Sen. Gary Lambert of Nashua -- hopes to reduce the financial impact on the Medicaid program, but he says he does not know what risk remains.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas cautioned the Senate in a series of letters that the bill could imperil the state's $1.4 billion annual state-federal Medicaid program. About half the funding is federal.

"That wasn't feasible. That would have been a financial nightmare for the state," Lambert said Monday.

But Toumpas stressed Monday that the amendment does not eliminate the risk to the entire Medicaid program that includes services to the disabled, mentally ill, women, children and the elderly in nursing homes.

"All that would become at risk (if the bill became law)," said Toumpas.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 3-2 last week to recommend passing the bill with the amendment.

Before the vote, Toumpas wrote the committee that excluding hospitals might not eliminate the risk to New Hampshire's Medicaid program because it would violate a federal requirement that Medicaid recipients have access to treatment from "any willing provider."

"Additionally, in some communities, these sites represent the primary source of access to health care for low-income women. For this reason, we continue to be concerned that (eliminating funding for) these sites will impede access to necessary health care services," he wrote.

Toumpas noted that similar attempts to end public funding to health care providers in Texas, Kansas and Indiana have resulted in litigation.

Texas lost all its federal funding after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said a new Texas law violated a federal law that guarantees women the right to choose their health care providers. The Texas law banned organizations affiliated with abortion providers from participating in a women's health care program that provides contraception and check-ups to women. The state's attorney general has sued the federal government to have funding restored, and nine clinics affected by the law have sued the state.

Ohio Republicans also have proposed cutting off funding to dozens of Planned Parenthood centers, and critics fear Ohio would lose its federal funding like Texas.

Other bills before the Senate on Wednesday would ban partial-birth abortions, ban abortions after 20 weeks, require a 24-hour wait before an abortion, exclude contraceptives from coverage in health plans if employers have religious objections and establish a committee to determine a method to collect statistics on abortion.

Senate committees recommend passing the partial-birth abortion ban which already is prohibited by federal law and statistical study bills. They recommend killing the bill to require a 24-hour wait and studying bills to ban abortions after 20 weeks and to give employers the power to exclude contraceptive coverage from health plans.

The ultimate fate of the bills is uncertain, however, since most of the committee votes represent a fraction of the 24 senators.

Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who supports abortion rights, said Monday he is in the process of reviewing the bills. Lynch would not say whether he would veto any that reach his desk, but has in the past expressed concerns about the state becoming involved in a decision that should be made by a woman and her doctor.

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