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Pared abortion bill passes

Only 24-hour wait for procedure kept

After nearly killing an abortion bill yesterday, the House passed a stripped-down version that still requires a woman to wait 24 hours before having an abortion but no longer makes doctors detail her fetus's developmental stages.

The amended version, which passed 178-152, also drops felony charges against doctors who violate the law and no longer requires them to tell women that abortions increase their chances of breast cancer, a claim widely disputed by health organizations.

Rep. Tammy Simmons, a Manchester Republican, co-sponsored the amended version that passed yesterday.

'Twenty-four hours is not too long to wait when we are talking about the life of another human being,' she said.

While the amended version eliminates some of the elements opponents most disputed, critics still called the legislation flawed and over-reaching. The legislation does not exempt rape victims and the 24-hour waiting period forces women, who may be in distress, to make at least two visits to her abortion provider, they said.

'How many abortion restrictions did they think they could fit into one bill?' said Laura Thibeault of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire in an email. 'Stripping out three obstacles to abortion care doesn't make the bill any more palatable. The goal of the bill is clear - to place roadblocks between women and their constitutionally protected right to choose.'

The amended bill now heads to the state Senate. It took a series of back-and-forth votes to get it there.

Two weeks ago, the bill passed the House 189-151. It was then referred to the House Criminal Justice Committee so the bill's criminal penalties could be reviewed. That committee voted 8-7 to remove the felony charges and returned the bill to the House for a second vote yesterday.

The full House supported the committee recommendation and voted 210-106 to drop the felony charge. But when the House was asked to pass the bill sans the felony penalty, it said no in a 181-164 vote.

At one point during the debate, Rep. Sandra Keans, a Rochester Democrat, suggested expanding the bill to include men with erectile dysfunction. Under her amendment, which House Speaker Bill O'Brien rejected as 'non-germane,' men would have had to wait 24 hours after seeing a doctor before using Viagra or similar treatments.

If the Legislature should 'intervene' in a personal decision between a woman and her doctor, it should do the same for men, Keans argued. O'Brien's ruling meant lawmakers didn't vote on Keans's proposal.

After the House failed to pass the abortion bill, Rep. Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat, urged members to instead kill it. He said no amendment could improve the bill enough to make it palatable.

'You can't put lipstick on a pig,' Shurtleff told the House. 'This is a bad bill.'

Rep. Laura Pantelakos, a Portsmouth Democrat agreed.

'Women of New Hampshire should be trusted and respected to make a decision about pregnancy and child bearing without the legislative intrusion contained in (this bill),' she said. She said the bill, with its requirement that doctors tell women abortions increase breast cancer, was 'medically inaccurate' and the product of a 'political agenda.'

Republican Rep. Jeanine Notter of Merrimack, the bill's main sponsor, urged the House to keep her legislation intact, telling them 31 other states had adopted the same bill.

'This is model legislation from Americans for Life,' she said. 'Does abortion increase the risk of breast cancer? It depends on the study (you believe.) Women should know about the risk.'

She also defended the section of the bill that required the state to create a video and other materials showing a fetus's development from two weeks to delivery. State officials estimated it would cost the state $100,000 a year to create those materials and oversee the law. Notter said she had found a way to save money on materials because officials in Alabama and Idaho had told her New Hampshire could use theirs.

Shurtleff's motion to kill Notter's bill failed by nine votes, 179-170.

After learning there was an amendment in the works that would pare the bill down significantly, the House voted 190-161 to table it. It stayed tabled until late yesterday afternoon when the House passed the stripped down version - over the objections of Rep. Kris Roberts, a Keene Democrat.

He said women do not go into a doctor's office unaware of the risks associated with an abortion. He also said the 24-hour waiting period that remains in the bill is discriminatory to poor women and those who live in Northern New Hampshire, far from abortion providers.

'We are telling poor women, women in rural areas, 'Tough, find a way (to) get to a doctor, go home, (and) come back' 24 hours later for the abortion,' he said. 'It's not fair. This is a socio-economic discrimination bill.'

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @annmarietimmins.)