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Friday, April 20, 2012

Senate panel endorses forcing Planned Parenthood out of performing abortions

CONCORD – A state Senate panel has endorsed Republican plans forcing Planned Parenthood of Northern New England out of the “direct or indirect” abortion business and outlawing so-called partial birth abortions.

But the anti-abortion plans of House Republican leaders took some hits Thursday with committee recommendations to kill both a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions and a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

The only bill that all five members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee agreed upon was to instruct a legislative study committee to gather better statistics on how many abortions are done in New Hampshire.

The full Senate will decide the fate of all five of these bills as early as next Wednesday.

Gov. John Lynch, a retiring, four-term Democrat and abortion rights advocate, is likely to veto most of those that get as far as his desk.

The ban on public spending for “direct or indirect” costs regarding abortion, HB 228, has been the most controversial in 2012, with critics dubbing it part of the social conservative movement to put Planned Parenthood under.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas has warned the bill could put at risk federal grants that are in excess of $1 billion a year from the federal Medicaid program.

Sen. Gary Lambert, R-Nashua, convinced the committee to amend the bill to exempt hospitals from this cost ban. “That was just going to be a massive nightmare,” Lambert said. “Some would contend this is still a nightmare; I think it makes it better. It makes it palatable for this committee.”

Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene, said the bill is still flawed and would discriminate against women.

“What is the basic intent except to eliminate Planned Parenthood? And that to me would be akin to take away basic health care for women,” said Kelly, the only woman on the panel. “Sometimes we talk about women like a public interest group. We are talking about mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, noted similar bills have been struck down by federal courts in Kansas and Indiana. Bradley said he worried whether the Obama administration would approve a waiver for NH’s plan to bring managed care to Medicaid while it’s being sued over access of women to reproductive health care.

Sen. Tom De Blois, R-Manchester, said Planned Parenthood can get out of the job of performing abortions and focus on other health care services for women.

“Planned Parenthood can continue to do its job. The only thing I ask is that they separate themselves from abortions,” said DeBlois, who represents Litchfield. “Let somebody else do it. If it is only 3 or 5 percent of their business, give it to somebody else.”

The panel voted, 3-2, to recommend killing the so-called Women’s Right to Know Act, HB 1659, from Rep. Jeannine Notter, R-Merrimack, to have New Hampshire join 30 states that make women wait for some period of time before getting an abortion.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Henniker, said he supports legal restrictions on abortions but this one goes too far.

“This is a bill that says government dictates to people that they are not allowed to make a decision. That is more than I can bear,” Sanborn said.

The group also favored sending to study the ban on abortions after 20 weeks, HB 1660, that carries criminal penalties of up to 15 years in state prison for doctors who do one.

Lambert said many of these bills were philosophical arguments like the proposed state ban on late-term abortions, HB 1679, since the act is against federal law and is not performed in New Hampshire. “A lot of the stuff is belts and suspenders,” Lambert said. “There are no abortions over 20 weeks. We are passing laws that essentially are about what we are not doing anyway.”