$1 billion at stake if anti-abortion law passes, state officials warn
CONCORD – The state’s Medicaid program could lose $1 billion in federal support if the Legislature outlaws public spending for any health provider directly or indirectly performing abortions, state officials warned Thursday.
Much of the four-hour public hearing was ideological jousting between supporters and opponents of abortion rights over whether Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s primary mission is holistic health care for women or terminating pregnancies.
But the stern words of Lisabritt Solsky, deputy director of Medicaid, raised the stakes for debate in the state Senate on HB 228, which already has passed the House.
“We certainly don’t want to gamble with our Medicaid program,” Solsky told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “There is already concern with the existence of our provider network, and our concern is that this legislation would provide gasoline to that fire.”
If the bill became law, New Hampshire would have to end its Medicaid relationship with 24 of 26 acute care hospitals because pregnancies are affirmatively terminated there.
The only two exceptions are Catholic-owned hospitals: St. Joseph in Nashua and Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.
“Our communication to those hospitals is you need to stop providing this service or else we need to disenroll you,” Solsky said. “I don’t know how any given facility would respond to those choices.”
Jim Squires, a former state senator, predicted that this would return the state to the period of the 1930s through the 1950s, when abortions were performed in black-market locations in back alleys.
“What this bill is really about is bringing the full force of government to bear for a religious view,” Squires said.
Sen. Gary Lambert, R-Nashua, said the bill would lead to a “cottage industry” of privately financed companies that offered abortion services.
The lawyer for the anti-abortion Alliance Defense Fund insisted that the measure would be upheld in court both on constitutional grounds and not as violative of the Medicaid program.
Steven Aden, the Alliance Defense Fund’s senior counsel, said Planned Parenthood and hospitals could continue to perform abortions by creating separate businesses that finance them through private donations.
And Carolyn Muscrave, former Colorado congresswoman now with the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, claimed that the goal has never been to do away with Planned Parenthood.
“This legislation is not specifically targeting Planned Parenthood. It is a holistic funding of health care services for women,” Musgrave said. “If they don’t want to go along with this, they can separate their services.”
Rep. Robert Fredette, R-Hillsborough, said the House committee studied the issue and wanted to kill it because judges in some courts have set aside similar moves against Planned Parenthood.
Last Jan. 18, the House overruled the committee’s desire on a vote of 207-147, short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome an almost certain veto from Gov. John Lynch.
“This is not a win-win for New Hampshire. This is a lose-lose. I didn’t know we had become an anti-women state, and I don’t think that we should,” Fredette said.
Jennifer Frizzell, policy director for Planned Parenthood, said abortion makes up only 3 percent, or 1,200, of the 24,000 visits to the agency’s six clinics in 2011.
“It is terribly difficult to listen while an organization we work at is vilified,” Frizell said. “A lot of the information being provided is unsubstantiated and really unfair, given our role in the health care system.”
Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or email@example.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter.