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Senate committee weighs abortion bills

State House Bureau

April 12. 2012 6:49PM

CONCORD -- A Senate committee on Thursday heard passionate testimony on both sides of the abortion debate, as it weighs several bills passed by the House that would set new restrictions on the procedure.

House Bill 1660 would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy; House Bill 1659, called the women's right-to-know act by supporters, would require a 24-hour wait period before a woman could have an abortion; House Bill 1679 would ban so-called partial birth abortions; and House Bill 1680 would call for the state to compile statistics on abortions.

The 'right-to-know' bill has been among the most controversial of the abortion-related measures. Originally it would have required a physician, at least 24 hours before performing an abortion, to present materials, including graphic images of a fetus and a video, describing the procedure and health risks, some of which have been disputed by medical authorities. Failure to do so, under a version of the bill first passed by the House, could have resulted in up to 10 years in jail for a physician.

The bill was later amended to remove the criminal penalties and to limit the mandated information provided by a physician to 'a description of the proposed abortion method, the immediate and long-term medical risks associated with the proposed abortion method' and alternatives to abortion.

In emotional testimony, Rep. Susan DeLemus, R-Rochester, referred to the abortion she had when she was younger, a decision she said regretted deeply.

'I murdered my baby,' she said. 'Part of me didn't want to be informed. Part me was a selfish woman who did not want deal with it... I wish to God I had had that 24-hour waiting period and they informed me of everything possible and the developmental stage of that baby.'

However, Rep. Candace Bouchard, D-Concord, said that despite the changes in the bill it remained 'the most insulting' of the abortion-related bills.

'It assumes women don't understand what it means to be pregnant and do not understand what it means to terminate the pregnancy,' she said. 'Women understand what their choices are by time they make the appointment to do it.'

She also noted that although criminal penalties were dropped, the bill could still expose doctors civil lawsuits, which she said could drive up malpractice insurance costs.

The other abortion bills, House Bill 1660, banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, and House Bill 1679, barring so-called partial birth abortions, would still carry felony charges and the possibility of jail time for abortion providers.

Opponents of the bills insist neither is necessary since there's already a federal ban on partial-birth -- or late-term -- abortions, and medical professionals have testified that abortions beyond the 20th week are not performed in the state.

However, two women at Thursday's hearing shared testimony of women who had abortions close to the 20-week mark. In both cases, doctors diagnosed severe health problems and said the babies would not likely survive long after birth.

Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, alluded to these cases in her testimony. 'This proposed legislation takes away an option women facing medically complex pregnancies. The decision is hard enough without government interference,' she said.

Opponents of the bill also pointed out that while there are exceptions to the proposed law in cases where the life of the woman is in danger, there are no such exceptions in the case of the fetus.

Kurt Wuelper, the president of New Hampshire Right to Life, said that this may be 'a flaw' in the bill. But, he said, 'I urge members when talking about this to at all times remember there are two lives here, the woman and the baby,' he said.

The committee did not vote on any of the bills.

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