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Friday, March 30, 2012

Ban on abortion after 20 weeks passed by House

CONCORD – House members passed legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks Thursday, the fifth bill passed by the body in the past two weeks that would impose tighter restrictions on the procedure.

At least some of the proposals are unlikely to become law by making it through both the state Senate, which is faced with an election year, and Gov. John Lynch, an abortion rights advocate.

Still, it’s a testament to how far the Republican-dominated Statehouse has come when only 16 months ago New Hampshire was one of fewer than a half-dozen states in the nation with no legal restrictions on abortion.

House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, chose to vote from the rostrum for the bill outlawing late-term abortions. The bill would subject the doctor to a state prison term of at least 71⁄2 years if performed illegally.

Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester, maintained that some research shows fetuses experience discomfort as young as 20 weeks.

“Research shows the unborn child feels pain,” Souza said. “This is not just junk science.”

Six states have such a ban. The Arizona state Senate approved the same restriction earlier this week.

Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, said doctors aren’t doing abortions in this state after 20 weeks and she rejected Souza’s claim.

“There is no consensus in the scientific community that a fetus has an ability to feel pain,” Weber said. “We heard an expert tell us pain fibers do not migrate to the brain. The bill once again intrudes the Legislature into the standards of medicine. That is not a good thing.”

The House passed this bill, HB 1660, 190-109, which exceeds the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto.

Officials with Cornerstone Action NH, a socially-conservative group, praised the House for consistently supporting giving a fetus the same rights as a born child.

The state chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League warned O’Brien and others will learn from the voters that New Hampshire remains a state that embraces a woman’s reproductive freedom.

“Extreme legislators in Concord may have thought they could push through a fringe agenda without people taking notice, but voters are paying attention and speaking up,” said Liz Hager, a former Concord Republican legislator and chair of NARAL-NH’s political action committee.

The House did vote to table or silently kill another bill, HB 1653, giving all medical professionals the right of conscience to refuse to take part in an abortion or any procedure that offends their religious or conscientious beliefs.

“HB 1653 is anti-patient and anti-business and would inject chaos and uncertainty into New Hampshire health care,” said Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord.

The House had already passed these measures over to the state Senate in recent weeks:

Partial birth abortion ban: Federal law passed in 2007 outlaws the procedure and critics say late-term abortions aren’t done in New Hampshire. The House vote was by more than a two-thirds margin.

Women’s Right to Know: The House stripped this bill to simply make women wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. Rank-and-file House members pressured the leadership to drop from it a mandatory video that would show graphic images of fetal development and making doctors distribute controversial information such as the risk of breast cancer and infertility for women who have abortions.

Pregnancy Statistics: This requires a study to recommend a way to make all health care providers collect information on the number of abortions in New Hampshire and passed without debate Thursday.

Judicial Freedom: The GOP-led Legislature last year approved, over Lynch’s veto, a requirement that a minor girl notify a parent before getting an abortion. Those seeking a judge’s permission to bypass that mandate are supposed to get an answer within 48 hours.

This bill lengthens that time for up to five days since budget cuts prevent the court from having judges and clerks always available on weekends.

In January, the House passed a sixth bill denying state funding to any health care provider that performs abortion. Advocates say it merely makes the targeted groups set up separate businesses.

State health officials warn it could jeopardize the entire $1 billion federal aid under Medicaid, a claim O’Brien has called “horrific hyperbole.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.