The Bulletin Board

Senate committee recommends interim study for ‘right of conscience’ bill

By: - April 28, 2022 12:55 pm
Tom Sherman

Sen. Tom Sherman said of House Bill 1080: “I don’t believe (the bill) is necessary, but if it is necessary, it is definitely not ready for primetime.” (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

A House bill that would allow physicians and pharmacists to refuse to perform abortions and sterilizations or prescribe contraception will face a challenge in the Senate. 

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted, 4-1, Wednesday to recommend interim study for House Bill 1080, saying it was too broad and unnecessary given existing federal protections for providers, and poses a danger to women suffering a medical emergency. The bill passed the House in March, 175-165.

“We are allowed to follow our conscience” under American Medical Association guidelines, said Sen. Tom Sherman, a Rye Democrat and gastroenterologist. And federal law prohibits health care providers that accept federal money, such as Medicaid and Medicare, from discriminating against a provider who refuses to provide abortions and sterilizations on moral or religious grounds, the New Hampshire Association for Justice told the committee. 

“I don’t believe (the bill) is necessary, but if it is necessary, it is definitely not ready for primetime,” Sherman said.

It’s one of two abortion-related bills headed to the full Senate, likely next week. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted, 3-2, Wednesday in support of House Bill 1625, which would eliminate the right of abortion providers to set safety buffer zones of up to 25 feet. That bill passed the House by an even narrower margin in March, 168-162.

In written testimony, the association said unlike “right of conscience” laws in 46 other states, the bill does not require a provider refusing care to refer a patient to another physician. Nor does it require another health care provider to be available when a provider cites a right of conscience. 

The bill ignores the fact that contraception and termination is sometimes necessary to protect the health and safety of a mother or child, the association said. Sterilization can be used for non-abortion situations, such as minimizing cancer risks, and contraception is sometimes prescribed to alleviate pain or blood loss in endometriosis or uncontrollable bleeding, the testimony noted. 

The association also sees the bill as creating a slippery slope that could allow a provider to refuse labor and delivery care to an unwed mother and ignore “do not resuscitate orders” on moral grounds.

In supporting interim study for HB 1080, Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, cited concerns raised by the New Hampshire Association for Justice. 

“(The bill) is very broad,” Bradley said. “It applies to every person, either in a physician’s office or even a clerk dispensing contraception, and it has no exceptions for emergencies. That’s a huge thing.” 

Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican, was alone in supporting the bill, saying it protects the rights of providers who object to abortion, sterilization, and contraception.

“I really think that we’re seeing a lot of our rights in jeopardy, and a right of conscience, I think, is pretty essential to liberty,” he said.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]