Informed consent: thumbs down, says NH House committee

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update, 4:50 p.m.:

“This legislature has no business being involved. The messages [in HB 483] are not neutral and are not supported by medical research and understanding.”

After making that statement in executive session, chairman Rep. Marjorie Smith (D-Durham) called for a Judiciary Committee vote on the “inexpedient to legislate” motion for HB 483. The motion passed 13-6, sending the informed consent measure to the House floor with a floor fight guaranteed.

In her comments, Rep. Smith did not address the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court – another government branch – placed the abortion liberty squarely in the political arena. None of the Judiciary members voting in the majority today suggested that the courts had no business being involved.

Rep. Smith did not mention which provisions of the bill she found “not neutral.” The text of HB 483¬†directs an abortion provider to provide the following information to a woman 24 hours before her abortion, which raises the question of just what “neutral” might look like:

  • Name of the abortion provider
  • “Medically-accurate” information about the proposed abortion method, risks, and alternatives
  • Probable gestational age of the fetus
  • Probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus at the time the abortion is to be performed
  • Medical risks of carrying the pregnancy to term
  • The fact that medical assistance benefits might be available, with printed material containing more detailed information
  • A list of agencies providing alternatives to abortion
  • The fact that the father of the child is liable to assist with child support; this may be omitted in cases of rape or incest
  • Notification that the woman may withdraw her consent to the abortion at any time

The bill further states that in a medical emergency (defined by a physician), the 24 hour waiting period and the informed consent prescribed by the bill may be waived.

Voting with Rep. Smith in the majority (all Democrats except for Takesian and Sylvia): Reps. Janet Wall (Madbury), Lorrie Carey (Boscawen; sitting in for the absent Paul Hackel), Rick Watrous (Concord), Peter Sullivan (Manchester), Timothy Horrigan (Durham), Paul Berch (Westmoreland), Sylvia Gale (Nashua), Frank Heffron (Exeter), Larry Phillips (Keene), David Woodbury (New Boston), Michael Sylvia (Belmont), and Charlene Takesian (Pelham).

In the minority, led by co-sponsor Lenette Peterson of Merrimack, were Republican Reps. Robert Rowe (Amherst), Joseph Hagan (Chester), Gary Hopper (Weare), Robert Luther (Laconia), and Lawrence Kappler (Raymond).

Chief sponsor Jane Cormier (R-Alton) listened quietly in the public seating area as committee members debated the bill for a half hour.  Active support of the bill was taken up by Rep. Peterson, who as a member of the committee was able to speak freely during the executive session. She faced challenges from her fellow committee members ranging from a complaint by Rep. Watrous that the fiscal note on the bill had not been completed by the office of the Legislative Budget Assistant, to a complaint by Rep. Horrigan that the bill mentions abortion alternatives but does nothing to provide them.

Rep. Berch, who missed the public hearing, said of the bill, “It’s really about women.” The two sponsors no doubt agreed with that, and so were probably dismayed as Berch went on to say, “This bill says women can’t get advice on their own.”

3:32 p.m.:

Two Republicans joined eleven Democrats as the New Hampshire’s House Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 today to recommend killing a bill to require that abortion providers inform women seeking abortion about alternatives, medically-accurate information about the proposed abortion method, and the identity of the practitioner, 24 hours before the abortion is performed.

Reps. Charlene Takesian (R-Pelham) seconded the motion by Rep. Sylvia Gale (D-Nashua) to kill the bill. Rep. Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) was the only other Republican to vote “inexpedient to legislate.”

A vote in the full House on HB 483 could come as early as February 27.

A New Voice for Informed Consent in NH

Coming in two days: a hearing on HB 483, a bill to require that women seeking abortion have the facts they need in order to give informed consent. Thursday, February 14, House Judiciary Committee, room 208 of the Legislative Office Building. This is a half-hour after the pro-Roe resolution hearing right down the hall.

Jane Cormier is a Republican freshman state representative from Alton. She resolved when she was elected that she was not going to jump on board a long list of bills as co-sponsor, but instead was going to take her time and get her bearings as an elected official. She finally selected one thing to promote: informed consent for women seeking abortion in New Hampshire. She is joined on HB 483 by Rep. Lenette Peterson (R-Merrimack).

I can hear the plaintive cries already from the usual suspects: “why do we have to deal with this again?”

Because New Hampshire hasn’t “dealt with it” yet, that’s why.

Cormier and Peterson propose that a woman get some information 24 hours before she obtains an abortion. Who’s going to perform the procedure, for instance. What kind of procedure or medication will be used, and the possible complications thereof. (Have you seen any TV ads lately for prescription drugs? You know, the ones with a soothing voice reciting the possible complications? If pill vendors have to disclose that information, why shouldn’t abortion providers?) Information on the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus. The medical risk of carrying to term. Information on alternatives to abortion, on financial resources available, on the legal responsibility of fathers.

The bill provides that all of this may be suspended if the physician certifies an emergency, and documents the emergency in the woman’s medical record.

Last year, when an informed consent bill came up, opponents were scandalized that anyone would try to tell doctors how to practice medicine. Opponents also said that women already know all this information.

Look again at Planned Parenthood’s new slogans & campaigns: Care, No Matter What. We can’t guess what it’s like “in her shoes” when a woman seeks abortion.

If we can’t guess what it’s like in her shoes, how can we guess what a woman does or doesn’t know when she presents with a crisis pregnancy? How is it “care” to try to block her from having one day to consider potential complications? How is it “care” to try to block her from knowing in advance who is going to be responsible for inducing the termination of pregnancy?

Cormier and Peterson believe women are smart enough to evaluate the risks and benefits of a procedure. In contrast, opponents of the bill have a very paternalistic view of women, believing that we should count on doctors to make our decisions for us.

Reaction against the doctor-knows best attitude helped lead to the founding of freestanding women’s clinics in the 1960s and 1970s. Conventional medicine was not meeting women’s needs. Ironically, many of these clinics evolved into abortion facilities. Now, their directors and staff routinely lobby to protect their institutional interests while fighting against informed consent requirements.

The freestanding clinics have become part of the conventional-medicine model that failed women decades ago. By opposing commonsense bills like this one, conventional medicine is failing women again.