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Abortion bills draw emotional testimony in NH House hearing

By Dave Solomon
State House Bureau

January 31. 2018 10:53PM
With his adoptive mother, Christine, at his side, Christopher Duffley testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on a bill to ban late-term abortions. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — Christopher Duffley, a blind and autistic teen from Manchester, is no stranger to the limelight. He’s been profiled in national and local media for his musical talents, nation anthem performances at Fenway Park, and inspirational counsel to peers living with disability.

On Wednesday, he took on another role, as supporter of a bill called the “Viable Fetus Protection Act,” which drew heartfelt testimony from both sides of the abortion debate before the House Judiciary Committee.

Born at 26 weeks weighing under 2 pounds, Christopher came into the world with a cocaine addiction and an eye condition that eventually claimed his sight.

“I shouldn’t be standing here today,” he told the committee, using his BrailleNote Apex tablet for reference. “In fact, I shouldn’t be standing anywhere.”

Although not expected to survive, he did, and was adopted by his aunt and uncle. Now 16, he used his personal experience to urge support for HB 1680, which would prohibit abortions in New Hampshire “after viability of the fetus, except in the event of a medical emergency.”

“Today, let it be known that you have the knowledge, courage and heart to change lives forever,” he said.

The bill sets no time line on viability, leaving that up to the woman’s doctor. It states that “the determination of viability shall be solely that of the treating physician after consultation with and examination of the pregnant woman.”

Also speaking in support of the bill were Jacqueline and Douglas Pounds of Goffstown, who told the story of their twin daughters, born prematurely and with severe health problems 30 years ago.

“At 2 years old, they were indistinguishable from any other child,” said Jacqueline. “Now one is a nurse in California and fights for many lives. Her sister works as a personal trainer and has a heart for helping people overcome disabilities.”

Opponents said the bill is unnecessary because doctors in New Hampshire are not performing abortions after the second trimester, except in medical emergencies.

Dr. Oglesby Young, a Concord-based obstetrician-gynecologist and a past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said in 35 years of practice in the state, he has never heard of a normal pregnancy being aborted after 18 weeks gestation.

“Most terminations take place in the first three months,” he said. “The only pregnancy terminations that take place after the first trimester are when we identify congenital anomalies incompatible with life in the second trimester.”

Young said viability is variable, with no single gestation period applicable to all circumstances.

“This law assumes we can define viability,” he said. “Unfortunately, viability is a moving target. In my 35 years of practice, it has gone from 28 weeks to 24 weeks, and I would be very wary of any law that tries to define it. It varies from one hospital to another, and from one pregnancy to another.”

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, challenged the testimony of doctors regarding the frequency of late-term abortions in the state.

“You may hear that abortions like this aren’t happening in New Hampshire, but the truth is we don’t know,” he said. “It’s entirely unregulated. We can’t say with certainty it’s not happening in New Hampshire.”

A bill to require the recording of abortion as a separate procedure for medical coding was recently defeated in the House. The procedure is now classified as dilation and curettage, which applies to other situations besides abortion.

Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, a co-sponsor of HB 1680, said the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade allowed states to regulate abortion in the third trimester, and the bill is consistent with that ruling.

“If you believe as I do that life begins at conception, then this bill is a compromise,” she said. “All we are asking is to at least protect babies who are viable.”

HB 1680 was one of two bills heard by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The committee also took testimony on HB 1721, called the “Protection from Coercive Abortion Act.”

The bill’s sponsors say it is designed to protect women from feeling pressured into unwanted abortions.

A woman seeking an abortion would have to be privately evaluated by a “qualified person” to determine if she is a “vulnerable person, and in particular if she is seeking an abortion under pressure to do so from other persons.”

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