Abortions would rule out state aid

Last modified: 2/9/2011 12:00:00 AM
For some of the attendees at a legislative hearing yesterday, Planned Parenthood is a vital resource that provides health care and cancer screenings for low-income women. Others called Planned Parenthood a disreputable group that "kills babies" and covers up the sexual exploitation of young women.

More than 75 people turned out for a hearing on a bill that would forbid the state from entering into a contract with Planned Parenthood or any other organization that provides abortions.

The heated rhetoric from anti-abortion activists was fueled by anger over recently revealed tapes showing Planned Parenthood employees across the country allegedly advising pimps - actually actors from an anti-abortion group - on how to get medical treatment for underage prostitutes.

But critics of the bill said it would make it harder for women to get birth control, gynecological exams, treatment for sexually transmitted infections and other basic medical care. They added that public money is already barred from funding elective abortions, and organizations like Planned Parenthood segregate their money.

"No health care provider does more to reduce the number of unintended and unwanted pregnancies in New Hampshire than Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the many family planning centers across the state," said Rep. Candace Bouchard, a Concord Democrat who chairs the New Hampshire House Reproductive Rights Caucus.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Willette, a Milford Republican, names Planned Parenthood specifically but would prevent the state Department of Health and Human Services from contracting with any abortion provider. The ban would apply to state and federal funds. It includes an exception for abortions that are necessary to save the life of a woman or "avert substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." It does not include an exception for a victim of rape or incest, exceptions that are included in the current law barring the use of public money for abortions.

"I know for a fact the people of New Hampshire don't want their tax dollars to pay for abortions," Willette said.

Kary Jencks, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the money at stake is a mix of federal and state money allocated for family planning programs in the state budget. In 2010, that was $2.35 million, of which $877,000 came from the state's general fund. (Planned Parenthood gets $689,000 in federal money, plus $104,000 in state money.) Lawmakers suggested that the bill could also affect Medicaid reimbursement money given to hospitals, such as Elliot Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which provide abortions. They questioned whether public employees' insurance plans would be affected - for example, by not allowing public employees to get medical care anywhere that provides abortions.

Opponents of the bill said it is overly broad and would destroy the ability for low-income women to get affordable health care. While Planned Parenthood treats anyone, it allows poorer people to pay on a sliding scale. Jencks said Planned Parenthood's family planning services save $4 in Medicaid-related costs for every $1 spent.

Former state senator Jacalyn Cilley, a Barrington Democrat, said Planned Parenthood prevents teen pregnancies by providing birth control information. It also provides yearly checkups and screenings for cervical or breast cancer. If the bill passes, "women will not only suffer, some of them will die," Cilley said.

Several women testified to ways Planned Parenthood helped them. Krysten Evans of Pelham, a 35-year-old married mother of two, said in written testimony that she first went to Planned Parenthood at age 15 for counseling on birth control options. She used its centers in high school and college and returned several years ago when she did not have a primary care physician and needed medical attention.

"This should not be an argument about whether you agree or disagree with my choice to carry a pregnancy to term or not," Evans said. "This is about access to quality and affordable medical services for women and men across our state."

Jencks said only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services are abortions. Bill supporters said 33 percent of the group's income comes from abortions.

Similarly, Linda Griebsch, director of the Feminist Health Center of Portsmouth, said most of the center's services relate to its clinic that treats HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Federal money goes directly to that clinic, not to abortions.

Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord said the bill goes against the small-government ethos of many newly elected legislators.

"If folks believe we should keep government out of our lives, why would we want government in our doctors' offices, in where we can get health care?" Larsen said.

But supporters of the bill painted it as a moral imperative. State Sen. Ray White, a Bedford Republican, said in his time as senator, "there will never be an issue of greater importance than this one."

"I believe (Planned Parenthood is) exploiting women at a time of crisis in their life, when they're most vulnerable, and urging them to do something they could regret for the rest of their lives," White said.

Bill co-sponsor Warren Groen, a Rochester Republican, said there are other ways for women to get health care.

"I'm amazed the only way we can find to deliver social services is by spending money on an organization whose specialty is cutting children into small pieces," Groen said.

Groen accused Planned Parenthood nationally of setting up clinics in minority areas and supporting abortions specifically against black babies. He suggested that the group was adopting a theory of eugenics that he attributed to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger to "try to get those human weeds out of the human garden."

Groen and other proponents said the bill itself would not deny women health care - the organizations could choose to stop performing abortions and continue to receive state funding.

Several state residents testified that they do not want their money used to fund abortions. Kathleen Hedstrom said she is upset her tax dollars pay for something she believes is morally wrong. "Abortion dehumanizes life - the life of a child, parent and our society as a whole," she said.

Ron Bourque compared abortion to the mass murders by Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.

"It's the destruction of human life," Bourque said. "The only difference between abortion and murder of a fully grown person is in abortion a human being has not had a chance to do anything to deserve a death sentence."

Annmarie Banfield said as a mother of a teenage daughter, she was "angry and appalled" to see videos of Planned Parenthood employees "covering up sexual abuse and exploitation" of teenage girls.

Jencks called the behavior by a Planned Parenthood employee in New Jersey, who allegedly urged a sex trafficker to lie about the age of underage prostitutes, "despicable, beyond disappointing and unethical."

The employee was fired, Planned Parenthood notified the police, and in light of other similar videos, the organization recently instituted new training requirements for all employees.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy for nonreporting risks to the welfare of a minor," Jencks said.

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