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NH Senate votes to ban partial-birth abortions

By Norma Love
Associated Press / April 25, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—The Senate heeded warnings Wednesday that legislation blocking public funding to abortion providers could jeopardize New Hampshire's Medicaid program and effectively killed the bill.

The Senate voted 17-6 without debate to table the bill; Senate President Peter Bragdon said no further action is expected.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 18-5 along party lines to pass a ban on partial-birth abortions, which are already banned by federal law, sending it back to the House with amendments. The Senate also voted without debate to establish a committee to determine a method to collect abortion statistics and sent the bill to Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

Lynch spokesman James Richardson said the governor, who supports abortion rights, is reviewing the partial-birth abortion bill, but did not say whether he would veto it.

The Senate voted 12-11 to kill a bill requiring a 24-hour wait for an abortion. It voted 15-8 to study banning abortions after 20 weeks and 19-4 to study giving employers with religious objections the power to exclude contraceptive coverage from health plans. The Senate rarely studies bills, and the votes were considered by many as a polite way to kill the House-passed bills.

"This legislative session has been marred by attacks on women's health and privacy, but today's votes signify a return to the Granite State's long, proud tradition of trusting women to make their own personal, private health care decisions in consultation with their doctors, family, and clergy," said Elizabeth Hager, NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire PAC chair.

The bill to cut off taxpayer funding includes hospitals, but a Senate committee recommended amending it to exempt hospitals and bar funding to clinics and others who perform elective abortions. That would end funding to six Planned Parenthood of Northern New England centers and several other rural health clinics. The Senate did not vote on the amendment.

Supporters argued exempting hospitals would lessen the risk to the Medicaid program, but Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas disagreed. About half the $1.4 billion New Hampshire spends annually on Medicaid, a state-federal program that includes services to the disabled, mentally ill, women, children and the elderly in nursing homes, is federal money.

Similar attempts to end public funding to health care providers in Texas, Kansas and Indiana have resulted in litigation.

Ohio Republicans had proposed cutting off funding to dozens of Planned Parenthood centers, but pulled the measure this week from a midterm budget bill. This week, Arizona lawmakers voted to cut off Planned Parenthood's access to taxpayer money.

The Senate spent the most time Wednesday on the bill to require pregnant women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion.

State Sen. Fenton Groen, R-Rochester, pleaded with his colleagues to ensure women have time to think about choices they may later regret.

"They should know that at 10 weeks, 12 weeks, there's a heartbeat. Babies have fingers and toes," he said.

But Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord said women are counseled now before making the decision.

"I would argue women make responsible decisions and will make responsible decisions without the government telling them they have to stop and think again," she said.

Supporters of banning abortions after 20 weeks argued medical science has progressed enough for the fetus to live outside the womb.

But opponents said some pregnancies have to be terminated after 20 weeks not because the mother did not want the baby but due to medical problems making carrying the baby to term impossible.

Before this year, New Hampshire's House had thwarted dozens of efforts to pass similar legislation since Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. New Hampshire had no laws regulating abortion on its books from 1997 to 2003, after abortion rights supporters succeeded in repealing three 1848 criminal abortion laws under then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and a more moderate Republican Legislature. The state has consistently had agency rules in place banning most publicly funded abortions for poor women.

The one exception made by the House over the years was enactment -- under a Republican governor and Legislature -- of a parental notification law for minors in 2003. The measure was never implemented and was later repealed by Democrats. Republicans overrode Lynch's veto of a similar notification law last year, and it took effect in January.

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