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'Bill severs abortion, funding'

Last modified: 4/6/2012 12:00:00 AM
Led by a national pro-life group, several state lawmakers urged a Senate committee yesterday to eliminate federal tax dollars for any medical facility, hospitals included, that provides abortions or refers patients elsewhere for the procedure.

Under the bill, a medical provider would be in violation if it used federal money for any direct or indirect abortion services. That would include using federal money to pay the light bill in a clinic that offered both prenatal care and abortion procedures.

State Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas opposes the bill and has warned that it could jeopardize the state's $700 million in matching Medicaid money that currently pays for health care for the needy, children and the disabled.

In a letter to Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who is chairman of the Senate committee hearing the bill, Toumpas said federal law already bars federal and state money from covering abortion procedures. But prohibiting providers from referring patients to an abortion provider would violate federal law, Toumpas wrote.

Republican Rep. Warren Groen of Rochester, the bill's co-sponsor, disputed that conclusion but added if Toumpas was right, then medical providers should give up abortion services as a business decision.

"It's unusual (a hospital) would jeopardize (its) funds for the tiny bit of revenue (it) gets from abortions," he said.

The bill before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed the House 207-147 in January, but not without a struggle. A bipartisan House subcommittee recommended twice that it be killed after determining that Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the bill's initial target, had not used federal money for abortion services.

In January, the full House overturned the committee's recommendation and passed the bill.

The bill is "model legislation" promoted by the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group that financially supports likeminded lawmakers.

The group's spokeswoman, former Colorado congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, traveled to Concord for the hearing yesterday and said similar legislation was passed by Texas lawmakers. She told the Senate committee the bill is about prioritizing limited federal health care dollars for women's health care. And "abortion is not health care," she said.

According to material Toumpas provided the Senate committee, federal Medicaid officials have warned Texas that it will lose a significant amount of its Medicaid payment if the law remains in effect there.

Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat, asked Musgrave why New Hampshire hospitals and medical providers shouldn't fear the same consequences if the bill passed. Musgrave initially said New Hampshire's legislation is different than the bill Texas passed. When Kelly disagreed and pressed on, Musgrave said hospitals and Planned Parenthood clinics would have to conduct abortions in separate buildings that used no federal money.

"No federal money would go to an entity that provided abortions," she said.

Rep. Alida Millham, a Gilford Republican, and Rep. Candace Bouchard, a Concord Democrat, urged the Senate committee to consider the work of the House subcommittee that voted 12-5 against the bill after a year of study.

Bouchard also questioned the wisdom of deciding public policy on moral grounds. Pacifists who oppose war still have to pay taxes that are used for war, she said.

Rep. Robert Fredette, a Hillsboro Republican, spoke against the bill yesterday and said it's a "back door" attempt to make abortions hard to get and, eventually, illegal.

"The group that has put this bill together is anti-abortion, pure and simple," Fredette said. "As many times as they deny that it's not anti-abortion, it is still anti-abortion." He went on to remind the bill's writers that the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision makes abortion legal.

While the bill's supporters stressed that their goal is to preserve limited health care dollars for women, they also spoke of making abortion illegal.

"Roe v. Wade can be likened to the Berlin Wall," said Rep. Kathleen Souza, a Manchester Republican, at a press conference before the committee hearing. "The Berlin Wall was rooted in sand and it crumbled. It crumbled because it stood for something evil that divided a nation. Roe v. Wade is going to crumble. It divides our nation."

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


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