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N.H. House to consider several abortion-related bills

The House is poised for several abortion-related debates this week, with four scheduled bills that could draw sharp rhetoric from lawmakers on both sides of the issue.

One bill would say that life begins at conception, and another would require licensing for facilities that provide abortions. A third would require the state to collect abortion statistics. The fourth is a fetal homicide bill that the sponsor doesn’t intend to apply to abortion, but it is still sparking resistance from pro-choice groups. These are the first abortion-related bills the House will debate this year. The House’s Democratic-led committees did not recommend passing any of the four as written.

The fetal homicide bill was introduced by Rep. Leon Rideout, a Lancaster Republican. It would allow criminal prosecution against someone who causes the death of a fetus older than eight weeks through negligent, reckless or intentional behavior, even if the mother does not die. Rideout introduced the bill after his daughter lost a pregnancy in a car crash last June. The driver of the other vehicle could not be prosecuted for the death of the fetus, Rideout said.

Thirty-eight states have fetal homicide laws, and a section of the bill stipulates the law would not apply to voluntary abortions.

But NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire is against the bill on the grounds that it is a step toward granting personhood to fetuses, which could lay the groundwork for limiting abortions, said Sara Persechino, director of policy and community relations.

“Of course it’s always heartbreaking when a woman loses a wanted pregnancy,” Persechino said. But the bill is “a slippery slope to outlawing abortion.”

‘Too bad’

The majority of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is recommending an amendment that would alter the bill significantly. Instead of allowing for prosecution on the death of a fetus, the amendment would allow judges to consider stricter sentencing when a pregnant mother and fetus are killed. Rideout said this guts the intention of his bill.

“The state of New Hampshire is basically telling mothers who survive, ‘Too bad, your child doesn’t count,’ and I just cannot wrap my head around anyone (who) can actually think that it’s not a crime to kill a wanted unborn child,” Rideout said.

Two other bills deal more directly with abortion and facilities that provide them, both introduced by Rep. Kathleen Souza, a Manchester Republican. The first develops a licensing process through the Department of Health and Human Services for any facility that provides more than five first-term abortions a month or at least one second- or third-term abortion a month. It would apply to facilities such as Planned Parenthood and the Concord Feminist Health Center.

The bill dictates what type of facilities and equipment the organizations must use, as well as what types of personnel are employed and how they interact with patients. It would require any woman more than 12 weeks pregnant to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion.

Souza’s second bill would require the state to collect statistics from places that provide abortions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects data on pregnancy termination annually from states that voluntarily participate and then makes the aggregate data public. The bill says the identity of the mother, the doctor who performs the abortion and the facility it’s done at would be kept confidential, unless the attorney general’s office needs access to it for an investigation.

Conservative group Cornerstone Action is supportive of this data collection. Gathering it would provide a better picture of which age groups are getting the most abortions, which part of the state is seeing the most abortions and more, Cornerstone Executive Director Bryan McCormack said. In the 2010 study from the CDC, the most recent one available, New Hampshire is one of three states that didn’t provide data.

“We need data in the state to understand what’s going on here, why it’s happening and where we need to help,” McCormack said.

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee unanimously recommended killing the first and referring the second for a study, which can be a polite way of killing a bill in the second year of a legislative session.

Definition of life

Finally, the House will take up a bill by Rep. JR Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican, that says life begins at conception. The bill specifically says a mother couldn’t be prosecuted for having an abortion. Hoell said it was written this way to first establish personhood rights for fetuses before tackling larger abortion issues. Hoell modeled the bill off one introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican.

If elected again, Hoell said he’d pursue other legislation aimed at limiting abortions.

“We start with the benchmark that everyone is equal,” Hoell said.

NARAL is standing against this bill as well as Souza’s bills and does not believe any of them will gather broad support in the House.

“We feel the overwhelmingly bipartisan committee votes in opposition to these (three) bills are evidence that there’s no appetite in the Legislature or our body populace to pursue an extreme agenda that will only endanger women’s health and safety,” Persechino said.

The House session begins at 10 a.m. today and will be followed by another session at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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