House bans funds for Planned Parenthood

Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012
A bill banning public funding of Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide elective abortions passed out of the New Hampshire House yesterday with a 60-vote majority, as Republicans rejected a report by the committee assigned to study the issue but fell short of the support needed to override a potential veto by the governor.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England says abortions make up only 3 percent of the services it provides and none of the public money it receives goes toward the procedure. The organization serves about 16,000 patients annually at six locations in New Hampshire, the majority of whom are low-income, uninsured residents who don't qualify for Medicaid.

"For many New Hampshire women, Planned Parenthood is the only affordable option for health care. This legislation puts at risk basic access to cost-effective, preventive services such as cancer screenings, breast exams, access to birth control and other disease prevention services," said Jennifer Frizzell, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England's senior policy adviser, in a statement after the vote. Last year, the all-Republican executive council narrowly rejected the state's contract with Planned Parenthood, but the federal government eventually awarded a $1 million grant to the organization after the state health commissioner said he was unable to find alternative providers.

Republican Rep. Susan DeLemus of Rochester was first to speak on the floor in support of the bill.

"As a sovereign citizen, I do not ever want to contribute to the stopping of a baby's heart with my tax dollars," she said.

Rep. Bob Fredette, a Republican from Hillsboro who voted against the bill in committee, said "this is not a political issue, this is not an abortion issue."

"This is an issue dealing with Planned Parenthood and what good they do for the lower income people of this state," Fredette said.

The House's health and human services committee consists of 13 Republicans and five Democrats. In October, the committee voted 12-5 to recommend killing the bill on the House floor. Rep. Alida Millham, a pro-choice Republican from Gilford on the committee, warned the bill could also cut funding to hospitals that provide abortion services.

The House's Republican leadership told its caucus to reject the committee's report and support the bill, which passed yesterday on a 207-147 vote.

"The majority of people agree that, regardless of individual beliefs, taxpayers should not be forced to contribute to the largest abortion provider in America when so many are diametrically religiously and morally opposed to the practice of abortions," House Speaker Bill O'Brien, a Republican from Mont Vernon, said in a statement after the vote. House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said in a recession taxpayers should not fund organizations "capable of funding themselves."

The bill's language, which had originally singled out Planned Parenthood "or any organization that provides abortion services," was changed on the floor yesterday with an amendment supported by O'Brien. The bill prevents the Department of Health and Human Services from entering into a contract with any organization that provides abortions not funded by Medicaid, which covers the procedure in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.

Frizzell said the amendment did not change the intent of the bill, which is "primarily to target Planned Parenthood but also other women's health organizations" such as the Concord Feminist Health Center.

Yesterday's House vote lacked the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto by Gov. John Lynch. In a statement yesterday, Lynch's spokesman Colin Manning said "this bill isn't about abortion, it's about health care for women."

"The Governor believes that patients, not the Legislature, should be able to choose their health care providers," Manning said. "That choice would be taken away from tens of thousands of New Hampshire women, who could lose access to family planning, cancer screenings and health education under this bill. These services are important to many women in New Hampshire and the Governor believes denying access to these services is the wrong thing to do."

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican President Peter Bragdon of Milford and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro declined comment yesterday until they are able to review the legislation. Frizzell said she hopes the Senate gives the bill "more serious and thoughtful scrutiny" to ensure the state's most vulnerable receive the non-abortion services provided by the organization.

"The women of New Hampshire will decide many of the critical elections in 2012," she said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)