The New Hampshire House will vote later this week on a committee recommendation to kill a bill calling for licensing of abortion facilities in the state. A bill to require the state to collect abortion statistics will likely be sent to study.

The proposed Women’s Health Protection Act (HB 1501) has ten co-sponsors and was supported at its introductory hearing by seven doctors who submitted written testimony. Chief sponsor Rep. Kathleen Souza (R-Manchester) filed the bill after learning that the state of New Hampshire has no licensing or inspection requirements for abortion facilities since they are classified as “physician offices.”

At the introductory hearing last month, representatives of abortion providers countered Souza’s concerns with assurances to committee members that facilities are actually well-regulated. The executive director of a Greenland, N.H. abortion facility claimed that her clinic was subject to thirty-one separate inspections for various certifications. While she handed her list of inspections to committee members, the list was not made available to other people attending the hearing. She was not questioned about the discrepancy between her claim and Souza’s finding that there is no required state-level licensing or inspection of abortion facilities.

Before the committee vote a few weeks later, committee member Rep. Barbara French (D-Henniker) said she was “insulted” by the bill, adding that abortion is “a highly regulated medical procedure.” Fellow committee member Rep. Thomas Sherman (D-Rye), a physician, said he had looked up the peer-reviewed literature on abortion and consulted with abortion providers before concluding that the bill is unnecessary. There is no indication that he tried to reach the doctors who wrote to the committee in support of the bill. The committee ultimately voted 17-0 on an “inexpedient to legislate” motion, which goes to the House floor this week.

The same committee has recommended interim study for HB 1502, which would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to collect abortion statistics. New Hampshire is one of only three states that does not provide basic statistical information to the federal Centers for Disease Control about abortion. While interim-study motions are often equivalent to killing a bill, one committee member urges patience. Rep. Don LeBrun (R-Nashua) has written “the committee is committed to collect any meaningful public health data in an aggregated form.” 

Abortion is legal in New Hampshire throughout pregnancy. The only regulations in place are a parental notification law (with judicial bypass) and a ban on partial-birth abortion. A bill to criminalize silent prayer within 25 feet of abortion facilities has passed the state Senate and will have a House committee hearing within a few weeks. A bill to recognize that life begins at conception drew sharp opposition when it was introduced recently; a committee vote is scheduled for this week.

Find ongoing coverage of New Hampshire life-issue legislation at Leaven for the Loaf.

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