By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
MANCHESTER — A controversial state law requiring New Hampshire women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound, became a little more controversial after the House session Thursday at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester.
House Bill 622 was tabled at Thursday’s session, after supporters learned at the last minute Speaker Sherman Packard was going to rule a committee amendment to repeal the ultrasound requirement was non-germane to the bill it amended and could not go forward.
The ultrasound provision was approved in the biennial budget bills passed last year, and has to be paid for by the person or her insurance company but not the state.
The budget package also included a provision that bans abortion after the 23rd week of pregnancy without exceptions.
The prime sponsor of the repeal, Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, called the action a stunt.
“In an unprecedented stunt today, the Speaker of the House ruled an amendment repealing New Hampshire’s invasive ultrasound mandate non-germane, preventing it from being voted on by the House,” she said. “The Speaker had already approved the report over a month ago, including it in the House Calendar for this week.”
She said the Speaker must have realized he would lose an honest debate and vote and chose this unprecedented abuse of power to get his way.
“Manipulating the process to prevent debate on such an invasive mandate is shameful and telling. Because of this action, women in New Hampshire will remain forced to undergo a procedure that is not medically necessary at the dictation of Republican legislators, not doctors.” Smith said. “The people of New Hampshire, who overwhelmingly oppose Gov. Sununu’s abortion ban, will not let this attempted cover up stand.”
Later in the session Smith confronted Packard asking him to explain what happened.
Smith said she never had seen anything like what happened in her 25 years in the Legislature.
She said she learned at the last minute before the bill was to come to the floor that the speaker was going to declare it non-germane.
“I need your help,” Smith said to Packard, noting her committee had taken a vote to approve the amendment repealing the provision and sent that report to the clerk’s office several months ago.
“I know the Clerk and the Speaker are very careful to make sure the calendars are accurate and appropriate and follow the rules,” Smith said. “About three minutes before the bill was scheduled I was told by the Clerk you ruled the majority amendment was non-germane. I don’t think I have ever seen that happen before.”
Packard said he had about 200 bills to review that had been retained and did not get to the bill right away.
About a week-and-a-half ago, he said he had a close look at the original bill, which sought to further restrict abortion access, and the amendment and decided if it came up he would rule it was non-germane.
Kayla Montgomery, VP of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, noted the amendment had bipartisan support to end the ultrasound mandate, but the House leadership used parliamentary politics to thwart bipartisan efforts to protect reproductive freedom.
“To be clear – broad based government mandates that require all people seeking abortion care first undergo an ultrasound, even if it is not medically necessary, serve only one purpose – to shame patients and add barriers to abortion access.” she said.
Montgomery noted every day the state’s ultrasound mandate is in effect is another day patients are harmed, adding additional bills have been filed to repeal the provision and the 24-week ban.
“We urge lawmakers and Governor Sununu to protect the freedom of all Granite Staters to make personal, private health care decisions, without government interference, by supporting future repeal legislation,” Montgomery said.
The bill was tabled on a 325-23 vote.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.