NH House committee dismisses abortion-facility licensing & stats bills

The New Hampshire House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs committee (HHS) voted unanimously today to send an abortion statistics bill to interim study and to kill an abortion-facility licensing bill outright. The full House will vote on both bills in March.

Licensing: “I’m really insulted by this.”

Rep. Barbara French left no one in doubt about her feelings towards the licensing bill. “I’m really insulted by this. Every clinic in the state of New Hampshire is operating above and beyond.” Rep. French’s remark came just before the HHS committee voted 17-0 on an “inexpedient to legislate” motion on HB 1501. Noting for the record her credentials as a nurse for more than 50 years, she called abortion “a highly regulated medical procedure.” She recited a list of inspections to which the Feminist Health Center in Concord submits periodically, including “annual inspection by the [executive] Department of Health and Human Services.”

Before the bill’s first hearing, sponsor Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester) told me about her efforts to get information about those inspections from the Department. To my knowledge, she came up empty.

Also speaking against the bill was Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye), a physician, who made the motion to kill the bill.  In HB 1501’s original hearing, he had expressed frustration at being unable to question the numerous doctors who sent written testimony in favor of licensing. Has he tried to reach any of those doctors? I don’t know, but he has had time since the original hearing to review (in his words) “the literature on abortion, all the peer-reviewed journals I could find, [and] I spoke with providers.” His conclusion: “This is considered by the medical community to be a safe procedure. All the requirements of the bill violate standard of practice. This bill is inappropriate.”

Other members of the committee were silent until it was time to vote. Then it was one “yes” after another until all seventeen members of the committee had gone on record.

Collecting abortion statistics: file and forget

The committee voted 17-0 to send an abortion statistics bill to interim study. New Hampshire is one of the very few states that refuse to monitor abortion statistics as a matter of public health: how many women obtain abortion, their ages and the gestational age of their children, how many repeat abortions. That will continue into the foreseeable future, given the absence of any will to follow up.

Interim study, you see, is usually a black hole. Now and then, when there is a knotty problem that legislators genuinely want to explore, an interim-study vote leads to hearings – but this is not one of those times. Sometimes, interim study is a good tactic for keeping options open. I heard nothing today to make me think the option of actual study will be carried out.

There was no debate and no discussion once Rep. Don LeBrun (R-Nashua) made the interim-study motion. During the vote, when the clerk came to Rep. Susan Ticehurst (D-Tamworth), an abortion supporter, there was a pause before she said, “with grave reservations, yes.” Reservations? Like a fear that a study might actually happen? It was not a time for questions, though, and the roll call went on.

The last statistics bill was HB 1680, introduced a few years ago by Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-Salem). It passed after being amended into a simple call for a study committee. That turned out to be interim study the hard way. No study committee ever convened.

There might not even be a debate when the bills get to the House floor. Unanimous committee votes usually mean a bill goes on the consent calendar with other “non-controversial” bills.

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