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January 24. 2012 9:52PM

Anti-abortion bills bring out both sides

CONCORD — Abortion took center stage at a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

Lawmakers heard testimony on four bills aimed in various ways at reducing or discouraging abortions.

The bills are HB 1653, which would allow medical professionals to opt out of participating in certain procedures, including those involving abortion, cloning and stem cells, if these violate their conscience.

HB 1659 would mandate that a woman, before having an abortion, be exposed to educational materials on the abortion procedure, including a state-produced DVD.

HB 1679 would make it a felony to knowingly perform a partial-birth abortion, punishable by imprisonment of up to two years or a fine up to $50,000, or both.

Among the more hotly debated bills was HB 1660, deemed by supporters the “pain-capable unborn child protection act.”

Based on similar legislation proposed in several states across the country, the bill would restrict abortions beyond the 20th week of gestation, because, supporters say, fetuses at this stage develop the ability to feel pain.

“This is not an abortion bill,” Rep. Robert Willette, R-Milford, one of the bill's sponsors, said at Tuesday's hearing. “It's a bill to prevent a baby from going through pain unnecessarily.”

Bill supporters argued that babies in the womb begin feeling pain as early as eight weeks.

This was contradicted by Dr. Barry Smith, with the New Hampshire Medical Society, who said babies don't feel pain until 26 weeks.

Also speaking against the bill, and the other anti-abortion measures, were representatives of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

Calling HB 1660 “flawed” and nonsensical, Claire Ebel, executive director of the NHCLU, said the bill was “a solution looking for a problem.”

The hearings come as the Legislature has taken several steps to limit abortion, including cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood.

Earlier this month, the House passed a so-called “fetal homicide” bill, while angering its original backers by making it apply only to fetuses more than 24 weeks old and requiring the perpetrator to knowingly or purposely cause the death and also know that the woman is pregnant.


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