Senate sends ‘right of conscience’ bill to interim study, passes repeal of clinic buffer zone law
Manchester Democrat Lou D’Allesandro fought in the Senate Thursday for protecting abortion rights in state law, saying his mother died of pregnancy complications on the operating table. “Why in God’s world do we say that men make these decisions?” he said. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
The Legislature worked late into the night Thursday to act on bills ranging from reproductive health protections to vaccine mandate exemptions. The House and Senate had until midnight to take up the other body’s bills.
Those that survived unchanged will head to the governor. Bills changed by one body will return to their originating chamber, where lawmakers will decide whether to accept the modifications.
A bill that would have allowed physicians and pharmacists to refuse to perform abortions and sterilizations or prescribe contraception was sent to interim study by the Senate. Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said the bill has “a number of pretty significant flaws,” including a lack of exceptions for emergencies, such as a woman whose pregnancy risks her health or life.
The ACLU of New Hampshire, which had been watching the bill, issued a statement after it failed to pass. “HB 1080 would have given health care and pharmacy workers a license to discriminate – regardless of if the person seeking their help was experiencing an emergency,” said Frank Knaack, policy director. “This bill was yet another deeply problematic attack on reproductive rights in New Hampshire, and we are glad to see it defeated.”
The Senate passed House Bill 1625, which would repeal the law that allows abortion providers to keep protesters up to 25 feet away from patients and staff. Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday he’d veto it, and its narrow passage in both chambers suggests insufficient support for a veto override. Democrats made multiple unsuccessful attempts Thursday night to amend the bill by dropping the buffer zone repeal and replacing it with language protecting a woman’s right to an abortion.
Among Democrats pushing to codify that right was Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, who said his mother died on an operating table from pregnancy complications at age 33.
“Why is it that men make these decisions?” he said. “I find that abhorrent. Why in God’s world do we say that men make these decisions?”
Fewer than half of the nearly 60 COVID-19 related bills introduced this session are still in play.
Two more were defeated Thursday, while two survived.
Opponents of vaccine mandates have put considerable energy into creating broad “conscience” objections to vaccine mandates. House Bill 1210 would have required public and private employers who receive federal money to approve conscience, medical, and religious exemption requests without question; currently they must consider only the last two.
Lawmakers voted, 19-5, to send HB 1210 to interim study, citing the potential loss of more than $2 billion in federal Medicare and Medicaid funding because the federal government does not recognize conscience objection. Making the recommendation for interim study, Bradley acknowledged the emotional testimony prompted by all the COVID-19 legislation.
“I don’t know that there’s been a more difficult issue that we’ve had over the last couple of years,” he said. “I think you have to respect both sides of the debate.”
House Bill 1604 sought to also add a conscience objection for state and county medical facilities. That one passed – after senators removed the “conscience” objection exemption, leaving only medical and religious exemptions.
The Senate passed House Bill 1606, which would make the state’s new vaccine registry essentially opt-in by giving people the option of being included or excluded. The Department of Health and Human Services warned lawmakers the change would discourage participation and jeopardize its ability to track vaccination levels for public health purposes. The governor has said he would support an opt-in registry. Nearly all states have made their registries opt-out.
The Senate passed an amended version of a House bill making ivermectin available at pharmacies without a prescription. Its changes to House Bill 1022 limit that access to two years unless a study commission decides to make it permanent. It also requires anyone who receives ivermectin to sign an informed consent form “stating there is no proven benefit to treating COVID-19 with ivermectin.”
Youth health risks
Public health leaders and law enforcement prevailed in saving the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Results from the anonymous survey, given nationally to high school students, guide public policy and secure funding to address youth sexual violence, substance abuse, and suicide prevention.
Sponsors of House Bill 1639 objected to questions about sex and argued that few students take it seriously. They sought to make it opt-in rather than opt-out, something opponents warned would discourage participation and make survey results meaningless.
Senators amended the bill requiring parental notification at least 14 days before the survey date so they can excuse their child from taking it.
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